Monthly Archives: January 2012

Hack Wilson: A Forgotten Star Who Burned Brightly and All Too Briefly

Editor’s note: “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame?” will return next week. For now, please enjoy this piece from Doug Bird.

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Hack Wilson came from the Pennsylvania steel country and left school after the sixth grade.  He worked throughout his childhood and developed his enormous upper body strength swinging heavy hammers at a locomotive works. In this environment, Hack learned that hard work was usually followed by hard play and that the best way to win an argument was with his fists. In time, he would take this approach to the National League and become, for a brief time, one of its greatest power hitters.

Wilson was a 5’6”, 190 lb outfielder who played from 1923 until 1934.  In 1930, he had one of the greatest seasons in baseball history, setting a record that still stands with 191 runs batted in.  Hack is remembered more for his drinking and brawling, both on and off the field, than for his on-field career. And it definitely curtailed his career, with most of his lifetime 39.1 WAR being accumulated in a seven-year stretch between 1926 and 1932. In a sense, all of this and more makes Wilson underrated, one of baseball’s forgotten stars.

Wilson began his career in 1921 playing minor league baseball for Martinsville Blue Sox of the Blue Ridge League (Class D) Two years later he was promoted to the Virginia League (Class C.) Despite the fact that Wilson hit .356, .366 and .388 in the minors, most major league executives considered him too small to play in the big leagues. New York Giants manager John McGraw, only 5’7” himself, thought differently and signed Wilson to a contract in 1924. Hack hit a solid .295 that season but slumped to .239 the following season and was sent back to the minors and left unprotected. The Chicago Cubs quickly snapped him up for the sum of $5,000. Wilson had found a home.

Wilson won four home run titles from 1926 to 1930 and led the Cubs to the World Series in 1929.  He led the league in RBI in 1929 with 159.  His lowest batting average during those four seasons was .313. His lowest RBI total was 109 and the fewest home runs he hit were 21. Then came 1930.  Although Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg each had seasons of 170 RBI or more before and after 1930, Hack Wilson that year drove in a record 191 runs, a record which still stands  and established a then National League record for homeruns with 56.  He also batted .356 that season and was the league’s MVP.

But Wilson would never again reach those daunting heights. Four years later he was washed up, an alcoholic and out of baseball.  He had been the perfect fit for the roaring 20’s in Chicago an era in which excess of every kind was encouraged and admired, and Wilson hung out with the stars and the notorious elements of the city. It soon proved too good to last. At one point in the glory years, Wilson’s manager Rogers Hornsby stuck a worm in a drink, showing him what the alcohol did to it. He asked Wilson what he thought of it, and he replied, “If I drink, I won’t get worms.”

In 1931 Wilson was involved in several on and off field altercations, his fight with reporters just after boarding a train for Cincinnati on September 6 leading to his suspension for the remainder of the season. Wilson was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals the following season and then to the Brooklyn Dodgers where he had his last successful season. Mid-season 1934, Wilson was released by Brooklyn, briefly signed by Philadelphia before he was out of baseball for good. Wilson’s most memorable moment that final season came when he accidentally fielded a ball heaved at the Baker Bowl right field wall by a manager conferencing with his pitcher and fired a perfect throw to second base.

Wilson moved to Baltimore after several unsuccessful jobs as a bartender in Brooklyn and a goodwill ambassador for a Washington D.C. basketball team. Although he had made more than a quarter million dollars during his career– in 1931 alone, Wilson made $33,000 the highest-paid National League player– Wilson died on November 23, 1948, a penniless alcoholic. His funeral was paid for by bar patrons who passed the hat. His grey funeral suit was donated by his undertaker. His son did not attend the funeral. And though it would be another three decades before the Veterans Committee inducted Wilson into the Hall of Fame in 1979, he was already a forgotten man.

Enshrinement rates and the relative size of the Hall of Fame

Have you noticed what’s been happening recently? The Hall of Fame has been getting smaller, at least in relative size.

In one way, the HOF is like the Roach Motel. Players check in but they don’t check out. In absolute terms, the HOF can only get bigger. But I prefer a different view. For HOF players, as with any group, understanding who the outsiders are (and how many of them there are) is essential to defining the insiders.

The size of the HOF is best considered in relative terms. With slightly more than 200 MLB players enshrined in Cooperstown out of about 17,000 who have played at the major league level, about 1.2% of players have received the game’s highest honor. A metric that can be calculated is something I will call the enshrinement rate: the number of inductees, expressed as a percentage of the number of players who left the game five years earlier (allowing for the five-year lag between a player’s retirement and his becoming eligible for election). Because both quantities making up this rate can vary from one year to another, let’s consider enshrinement rates on a longer time scale, say, ten years. For example, for the 1960s (the years 1961 to 1970), 29 MLB players were enshrined. Newly eligible for enshrinement during this ten-year period were the 991 players whose careers ended in the years 1956 through 1965. Therefore, the enshrinement rate for the ‘60s was 2.9%. It does not mean that 2.9% of the ’56-’65 retirees were enshrined, since the Veterans Committee honorees in the ‘60s were players who had retired in earlier decades.

The ‘60s and ‘70s (also at 2.9%) were the high water mark for enshrinement rate. These were the years that, for better or worse, saw the most VC picks enter the Hall. In contrast, the enshrinement rate was 1.8% in the ‘50s, 2.2% in the ‘80s, and 2.1% in the ‘90s. More recently, we have seen a dramatic drop in the enshrinement rate, to 1.0% during the decade of the 2000s; 19 players were enshrined while 1887 players became eligible. This calculation does not include the Negro League honorees who entered by special election in 2006 and who played few, if any, games in the major leagues. While the HOF continues to grow in absolute numbers, it is now seeing a modest reduction in relative size.

I do not foresee a return to the enshrinement rates of the ‘60s and ‘70s. With 30 MLB teams, about 200 players end their major league careers each year. These days, even a 2.5% enshrinement rate would mean five players getting elected annually. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a year in which that many new players have gone to Cooperstown.

A significant elevation in enshrinement rate can probably happen only if the selection rules change. Giving the writers the opportunity to vote for more players will probably not make much difference, though, since even under the current system, many writers cast fewer than their allotted ten votes. Perhaps some elevation in enshrinement rate could come about if there were changes promoting greater activity from the VC. However, even if the induction rate were to rise to 1.5 or 2% (3 or 4 players a year) we would see only very slow growth from the current relative size of the HOF.

Although the 1% enshrinement rate of the past decade presents a fairly robust Small Hall scenario, if you’re a Small Hall guy you might be wishing for even lower enshrinement rates in the future. But how much lower can we go? I find it hard to imagine that between the writers and the VC we won’t average at least one new player in the HOF per year, or an enshrinement rate of at least 0.5%. This would reduce the relative size of the HOF, but slowly.

My best guess is that we will see enshrinement rates hovering somewhere between 1 and 1.5% in the decades ahead, which would have the HOF remaining nearly static in relative size. Even if we do see changes in the enshrinement rate, the ensuing change in the relative size of the HOF will be slow. The bottom line: if you’re unhappy with the current size of the Hall of Fame, you will probably carry that unhappiness with you the rest of your days.

Two Home Runs Kings Reunite; Aaron and Oh Meet in Los Angeles

A few weeks ago around the Hall of Fame voting announcements, I took a Cyberspace visit to the Ted Williams Museum and its Hitters Hall of Fame.

Using what Williams described as his “secret formula” (actually the stat OPS), he identified his twenty greatest hitters of all time. BPP readers can and have debated over Barry Larkin and Bert Blyleven’s credentials. Looking at Williams’ stellar group, there are many fine hitters, and we’ve written of the museum before.

Included in Williams’ original 1995 inductees is Hank Aaron, possibly one of the most underrated of the Cooperstown Hall. The Williams’ Hall has other inductees which it updates annually. In 1999, the museum added Japanese-Taiwanese Yomiuri Giants’ slugger supreme Sadaharu Oh.

In 1974, Aaron and Oh went head-to-head in an unprecedented international home run hitting contest of epic proportions. CBS offered Aaron $50,000 and Oh, 6 million yen ($20,000) plus a silver trophy to the winner.

That year, the New York Mets were in Japan for a post-season good will tour. The Aaron-Oh showdown would be part of a November 2 of pre-game ceremony between the Mets and the Japanese All Stars.

Aaron, then with the Atlanta Braves, didn’t take the event seriously. In an interview, Aaron stated that the Japanese ball parks were so much smaller than the ones he played in stateside that any comparison between his home run prowess and Oh’s was “totally unfounded.” Aaron didn’t bother to bring any of his bats to Japan but instead borrowed Ed Kranepool’s longer, lighter Adirondack.

The contestants chose their own pitchers. Aaron gave the nod to Mets’ coach Joe Pignatano while Oh stuck with right handed Giants’ batting practice pitcher Kiniyasu Mine.

The format had been agreed upon in advance. Each player would be allowed 20 fair balls with their at bats taken in alternating sequences of five. At the end of the first round, Oh led 3-2.

At the beginning of round 2, Oh blasted three more homers to take a 6-2 lead. Later, Aaron laughingly said that he never thought he would hear the day when Mets’ wives would be chanting, “Let’s go, Henry.” By the bottom of the second round, Aaron tied the score 6-6 with four titanic blasts.

Aaron moved ahead in the third round, 9-7. Locals feared that Oh was out of gas. But Aaron, who hadn’t held a bat in six weeks, was running on empty, too. In the final round with the score tied at 9, Aaron had five more swings; he flied out, grounded to short and then lifted the winning shot over the left field fence. Final score: Aaron 10-Oh 9.

Ironically, only a few hours later, the Braves traded Aaron to the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Aaron and Oh challenge began a lifelong friendship. Earlier this month the two, who had a total of 1,632 career homers, were in Los Angeles for the 20th Anniversary Children’s Baseball Fair Luncheon.  Aaron, 77, and Oh, 71 co-founded the organization in 1990. When Frank Robinson, ninth on the all time homer list, arrived a few minutes late, the three men represented 2,209 homers. [Aaron, Oh Are at Head of Power Luncheon, by Mike Di Giovanna, Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2012]

As always, Aaron was gracious. He politely but vaguely answered Barry Bonds questions.

Robinson, however, bluntly said:

In my mind, Hank is the home run king, no question.

Aaron and Oh were generous in their praise of each other.

Oh, said Aaron, “could have held his own in the major leagues.”

About Aaron, Oh said:

A lot of people were concerned about winning the derby. I was just grateful for his presence in Japan, for Hank to be in uniform, to show the Japanese fans and kids how great a person and player he is.

Any player/Any era: Gene Tenace

Editor’s note: Please welcome another “Any player/Any era” from Albert Lang.

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What He Did: You mean aside from being born Fury Gene Tenace?

Well, he finished his 15-year career with a .241/.388/.429 line with 201 HRs, playing primarily catcher and first base. He appeared in 846 games at catcher (.245/.396/.437) and 582 at first (.242/.382/.428).

His .388 career OBP is tied for the 33rd best by a right handed batter (min. 5,000 PA) in MLB history. He walked 984 times, the 41st most by a righty. He had six seasons of 100+ walks, the 20th most seasons of 100+ walks in baseball history. (The above from the SABR Baseball List & Record Book, 2007).

All of that and Tenace didn’t become a regular until he was 26 in 1973 (shades of Jorge Posada?). From 1969-1972 Tenace served primarily as Dave Duncan’s back-up (a no-hit, lead-the-staff kind of guy). However, with Duncan batting .163/.200/.302 in August of ‘72, Tenace was given the starting job down the stretch and throughout the play-offs.

While Tenace batted miserably in the ALCS, his one hit drove in the winning run in the deciding game. Then he hit .348/.400/.913 in the World Series, including homers in his first two World Series at bats (the first player to do so). He earned the MVP (and first of four World Series rings). Duncan was embroiled in a contract dispute during the following off-season and subsequently traded.

And that’s how you take over a starting catching job: brute force! Tenace did split time at catcher and first over the next few years, which would serve as his peak. From 1973-1980 (including four seasons in San Diego’s cavernous ballpark), Tenace averaged 147 games with a .241/.391/.434 line and 21 HRs per year. During that time, Tenace accumulated 39.9 WAR (Fangraphs), tied with Bobby Bonds for the 16th most among hitters during that stretch.

When it was all said and done, Tenace’s career looks somewhat similar to Adam Dunn. Dunn has 365 HRs (certainly more than Tenace) but a .243/.374/.503 line (surprisingly a worse OBP than Tenace). If you translate Dunn’s line to the 1975 Oakland Athletics, he would have 347 HRs and a .234/.362/.484 line. Tenace…just about Adam Dunn as a catcher.

In addition, Tenace’s 47.4 career WAR (Fangraphs) is 17th all time for a catcher (and that includes the likes of Brian Downing, Buck Ewing and others (who might not qualify at catcher) ahead of him). Certainly, his contemporaries, Ted Simmons and Johnny Bench, had better careers, but that shouldn’t take away from Tenace, much the same that Alan Trammell shouldn’t have been hurt by playing during the same era as Cal Ripken and Barry Larkin.

Era he might have thrived in: If ever there were a player from an older era that would have thrived in the “modern” game, it’s Tenace. For that reason, I’m putting him in the early part of the 2000s. If you place his numbers on the 2001 Oakland Athletics, his career line would be .270/.424/.475. His 1975 season, translated, would be a masterpiece: .269/.412/.486 with 31 HRs. Indeed, during his prime, he would have posted OBPs over .400 ever year but his translated 1974 season (his OBP on the 2001 A’s would have been a measly .398).

Why: The Oakland Athletics were perennial contenders from 2000-2006. However, they didn’t have a serviceable catcher until Ramon Hernandez blossomed in 2004. Tenace would have made Hernandez expendable (and trade-able) in a meaningful way.

Replacing Hernandez in 2001 (when Hernandez batted just .254/.316/.408) with Tenace would have improved an already lethal line-up. Could you imagine a team sending out: Johnny Damon/Gene Tenace/Jason Giambi/Eric Chavez/Miguel Tejada/Jermaine Dye/Jeremy Giambi/Terrence Long/Frank Menechino? That line-up would have no holes and include two players with .400+ OBPs.

Really, if you think about it, Tenace could have been the face of Moneyball.

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A batting lineup of pitchers

1.) George Uhle: Uhle might have played an everyday position had he not pitched so well, inventing the slider, once walking a batter to strike out Babe Ruth, and winning 200 games lifetime. One of a handful of pitchers with more than 10 offensive WAR for his career, Uhle hit .289 in his career with a .339 on-base percentage and 21 triples. His speed and contact hitting earns him the lead-off spot.

2.) Red Ruffing: Hall of Fame pitcher Ruffing hit at least .300 eight of his 22 seasons and topped out at .364 in 1930. Projecting his numbers that year to a 500 at-bat season, Ruffing would have had 182 hits with 18 homers, 100 RBI and a .984 OPS. Better, Ruffing went 15-8 on the hill in 1930 after consecutive 20-loss seasons.

3.) Wes Ferrell: I’ve said this before here, though it bears repeating. When people knock Rick Ferrell’s 1987 Hall of Fame induction, they sometimes note he wasn’t the best player in his own family. Rick doesn’t even have the best OPS+ despite playing catcher while Wes served primarily as a rotation-anchoring pitcher, winning 20 games six times. Wes bests Rick for OPS+ (100 to 95), home runs (38 to 28) and slugging percentage (.446 to .378) among other offensive categories. Fittingly, he fronts a 1979 SABR book, Great Hitting Pitchers.

4.) Earl Wilson: Wilson’s 35 home runs aren’t tops for pitchers, but his one homer every 21.14 at-bats might be. It trumps Ferrell, who went yard once every 30.9 at-bats (and hit a record 37 homers as a pitcher and one more as a pinch hitter.) Wilson played just 11 seasons, being stuck much of the 1950s in the minors with the Boston Red Sox, who waited until 1959 to integrate. He also mostly played in the 1960s, one of the worst offensive periods in baseball history. Imagine Wilson’s hitting stats for a longer career in a better offensive era.

5.) Don Drysdale: Like a few of the men here, Drysdale’s career hitting stats are non-imposing:  .186 lifetime batting average with an OPS+ of 45 and a 162-game average of 110 strikeouts. He rates a mention for his one sensational offensive year, 1965, when he was the Dodgers’ only .300 hitter and had seven homers, 19 RBI, and an OPS+ of 140. He also went 23-12 on the mound, helping Los Angeles to a World Series crown.

6.) Carlos Zambrano: For his epic 2011 meltdown in Chicago, Big Z hit .318 with a career-high 130 OPS+ in 44 at-bats. He hit better still in 2008, .337 with four home runs, 14 RBI, and a 122 OPS+ in 83 at-bats. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in Miami, given that Zambrano had a lower batting average but better slugging numbers in Wrigley than elsewhere.

7.) C.C. Sabathia: Sabathia might be the hitting king of American League pitchers, batting .269 in interleague play lifetime. His .250 career batting average overall pales in comparison to many other pitchers, even active ones, though like Wilson, I wonder what Sabathia could do with more at-bats.

8.) Bob Gibson: Gibson, like Drysdale, is considered one of the best-hitting pitchers of the 1960s and had better peak offensive value than longevity, batting .303 in 1970 and .206 lifetime. Gibson and Drysdale share another thing in common: Each owned the other man at the plate, with Gibson going 2-20 and Drysdale 1-23, though surprisingly, neither hit the other with a pitch despite their reputations as brushback artists.

9.) Walter Johnson: The Big Train had incredible durability, placing third in baseball history with 5,914 innings pitched, though when his skills went, they went fast. Johnson had his last great year at 37 in 1925 when he went 20-7 for the AL champion Washington Senators and hit .433 with two homers, 20 RBI, and a 162 OPS+ in 97 at-bats. He even smacked a triple, his 41st and final. As a man of surprises, he makes a perfect ninth hitter.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Kevin Brown

Editor’s note: Please welcome the latest from Alex Putterman.
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Claim to Fame: Brown pitched for six Major League teams in his 19-year career, and while our lasting memory of the righty might be of him floundering in the Bronx, his pre-Yankee days were filled with high innings counts and low ERAs. By the time Brown retired in 2005, he was 53rd all-time with a 127 ERA+ and 34th all-time in pitching WAR with 64.8 wins above replacement on the mound. He was also a six-time all-star and five times finished among the league’s top six in Cy Young voting.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Despite qualifications that should render him at least a borderline Hall candidate, Brown received only 2.1% of votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America in 2011 and, having fallen below the 5% threshold necessary to remain in consideration, is no longer on the ballot. He cannot be considered by the Veterans Committee until he has been retired for 20 years, and if the voting procedure does not change between now and then, Brown will next be eligible for the 2026 Expansion Era ballot.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Brown finished 35th on BPP’s December list of the 50 best players not in the Hall, with 18 of the 83 voters considering him Cooperstown-worthy. I personally voted him deserving of induction and would happily do it again.

Among non-HOF pitchers, only Tony Mullane and Rick Reuschel were worth more WAR in their careers than Brown was in his, and Brown was much more effective in run prevention than many Hall of Famers, with an impressive ERA+ in a fairly lengthy career. Brown does not deserve mention alongside Martinez, Clemens, Maddux and Johnson on the list of elite pitchers of the ’90s and 2000s, but his numbers match up well with those in the next tier: Glavine, Smoltz, Mussina, and Schilling, none of whom are yet eligible for the Hall but all of whom are expected to garner significantly more support than Brown did.

So why didn’t Brown receive backing from the BBWAA? His aforementioned end-of-career struggles perhaps left a negative taste in voters’ mouths, with many remembering his 6.50 ERA in 2005 more than his 1.89 ERA in 1996.

Brown also lacks the round career totals that have gotten many inferior players into the Hall. He retired well short of the 300 win and 3,000 strikeout milestones, which would have likely assured his place in Cooperstown. His candidacy could also have benefited from a Cy Young award or two (for the record, I think he was robbed in ’96 and ’98) or a defining postseason performance. Without any transcendent achievements on his resume, Kevin Brown was largely forgettable.

Joe Posnanski posed another interesting theory about Brown’s poor showing in Hall of Fame voting in a blog post about his “Hall of Not Famous Enough. Joe wrote:

There was a little bit of outrage in select circles about Brown getting knocked off the ballot after one year. Mostly, though, people didn’t care because nobody really liked Kevin Brown. He actually might be in the Hall of Not Likable Enough.

Well Joe, I’m among those “select circles,” because, as Ty Cobb learned, being likeable is no prerequisite for Hall entry.

So, because of some combination of a poor finish, a lack of memorable moments and accomplishments, and an attitude that endeared him to nobody, Kevin Brown is no longer on the Hall of Fame ballot, while Jack Morris– whom Brown leads substantially in ERA, ERA+, WHIP, SO/BB, HR/9, winning percentage, and WAR– continues to receive moderate support. This is immensely frustrating to me, but there’s nothing to do. Life’s not fair; I’ll have to get used to it.

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

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie ReynoldsBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon Mattingly,Don NewcombeGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack Morris, Jeff BagwellJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiLarry Walker,Manny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete Browning,Phil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark

Richie Ashburn, My Non-wWAR Overview

When my colleague and fellow baseball historian Adam Darowski wrote that Richie Ashburn was a better player than he had thought, I was pleased. Like the BBWAA writers, I have my biases and one is Ashburn. But using the standard that Adam developed for the “Small” Hall of Fame that I favor, Ashburn came up quite sort. Adam set 105 wWAR as the minimum for entry to the Small Hall; Ashburn had 84.8.

Ashburn, if nothing else, was one of the most dependable players of his era. During the ten year period from 1949 through 1958, he played in 98.6 percent of the Phillies’ games. Only seven players had higher percentages over a similar period: Lou Gehrig, Billy Williams, Nellie Fox, Cap Anson, Stan Musial, John Morrill and Ron Santo.

Ashburn must have been a manager’s dream. Phillies’ pilots Eddie Sawyer, Steve O’Neil, Mayo Smith and, for a season with the Mets, Casey Stengel knew they could pencil Ashburn into the lineup and he would deliver.

A superb outfielder who played in the shadows of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider, Ashburn couldn’t hit for power and was considered to have a weak arm (although in the bottom of the ninth of the 1950 single game playoff for the National League pennant against the Brooklyn Dodgers and with the score tied 1-1, he threw out Cal Abrams at home plate.)

As a leadoff hitter, however, Ashburn completely bedeviled pitchers. Choking up on his bat, Ashburn used his shortened stroke to slap the ball through the infield. When he was not delivering a single, he would bunt his way on base or draw a walk, then steal second. Ashburn knew how to work a pitcher. Once he fouled off 14 deliveries from Cincinnati’s Corky Valentine before he finally walked.

Ashburn’s teammate, Johnny Blatnik told this story about his friend’s bat control:

One night in Philadelphia, there was a loud mouthed guy who was getting on one of our players, I can’t remember who it was. Rich told our man ‘Point him out to me.’ Rich went up to bat and hit the guy in the chest about five or six rows up in the stands with a line drive foul ball. That’s a true story.

Few outside of Philadelphia know that when the 1950 decade ended, Ashburn had more hits than Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Mays or Mantle.

After his playing career ended, Ashburn had the wisdom to turn down an offer to go into Nebraska politics as some urged him to do. Instead Ashburn accepted the Phillies invitation to join the broadcast team where he enamored the notoriously tough Philadelphia fans for decades.

When in 1995 the Hall finally inducted Ashburn, he said showing his famous sense of humor:

I’m flattered that so many baseball people think I’m a Hall of Famer. But what’s hard to believe is how one-hundred and fifty plus people have changed their minds about me since I became eligible because I haven’t had a base hit since then.

Ashburn’s Cooperstown plaque reads, in part:

DURABLE, HUSTLING LEAD-OFF HITTER AND CLUTCH PERFORMER WITH SUPERB  KNOWLEDGE OF STRIKE ZONE. BATTED .308 LIFETIME WITH NINE .300 SEASONS AND 2,574 HITS IN 2,189 GAMES, WINNING BATTING CHAMPIONSHIPS IN 1955 AND 1958. AS A CENTER FIELDER, ESTABLISHED MAJOR LEAGUE RECORDS FOR MOST YEARS LEADING LEAGUE IN CHANCES (9), MOST YEARS 500 OR MORE PUTOUTS (4) AND MOST SEASONS 400 OR MORE PUTOUTS (9).


At Ashburn’s 1997 funeral, players and fans showed up in droves and stood in line for hours to pay their final respects to the man whose skills on the field and voice behind the mike was legendary. Some grown men, crying, left their transistor radios beside Ashburn’s casket to pay the ultimate tribute to the man they admired and loved for years.

Some Random Thoughts on a Cold January Day

Editor’s note: Please welcome the latest from Doug Bird.

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We’re all sitting here waiting, still, on Prince Fielder to sign. At this point I’m well past caring who he signs with, just sign so we can get on with our usually inaccurate pre season predictions. Of course I’d like to think that once signed, my predictions will fall into line. Yeah, that will happen. Fielder could have a huge impact on the pennant races depending of course on where he eventually signs. That goes without saying. So with that in mind, I thought I would throw out some random thoughts/happenings/news and other stuff for this week’s column.

One of my favorite players retired this week, Orlando Cabrera. I remember him mostly from the occasionally glorious and usually frustrating days of my beloved Montreal Expos. He went on to play for the Boston RedSox with whom he earned a World Series ring, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s,  Minnesota Twins,  Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians and finally the San Francisco Giants.  Apparently he had been offered a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves this offseason but chose instead to retire at age 37. A classy guy indeed.

Another of my favorite players has not received a contract offer as of yet and it seems as though he may have to follow in his former teammate’s footsteps. Vlad Guerrero at 36 hasn’t been able to play in the field these past few seasons due to knees which were ruined on the turf in Montreal.  He was electrifying in the field with a cannon arm which gave base runners pause even though often times the ball could be going anywhere but its intended destination.  Offensively, it seemed that the only pitch he couldn’t hit was a waist high down the middle fastball.

Congrats to Barry Larkin for being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I have my own criteria for the Hall but I certainly don’t begrudge this selection. Larkin was one of the best of his generation and a very classy guy. He joins fellow ex-Reds Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan. What a foursome that would have been.

Yu Darvish had better be all he can be for Texas. I must admit ignorance other than what I have read in the somewhat vague scouting reports. Japanese players for the most part have a difficult time adjusting to the Major Leagues and having any sustained success.  The language and cultural differences would be a distraction for any of us. And with the baseball world united in acclaiming him to be already one of the top pitchers in the majors, the added pressure must be numbing.  I wish him luck.

The Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Philadelphia Phillies seem to be getting a bit long in the tooth. Don’t be deceived though. Those old guys are still very dangerous and still smarting from last year’s lack of a World Series title. Those guys still know how to win.  I’m going to miss Jorge Posada and try and revel any opportunity I get to see Derek Jeter. Jason Varitek has likely seen his last days in Boston and Carl Crawford needs to adjust of life in the pressure cooker.  Watching Roy Halladay pitch reminds me of the great Greg Maddux. The surgical precision with which he goes about his job is always a marvel to watch.  I’m always surprised when he gives up anything. I’m glad Jimmy Rollins stayed in Philadelphia. It just makes my Jimmy Rollins baseball card still relevant.

The Boston RedSox have been awfully quiet this offseason while the New York Yankees finally made a big splash. Rumors have it that the Yankees are trying to get rid of A.J. Burnett. Not so surprisingly, there are no takers. Maybe the Chicago Cubs could trade him for Alfonso Soriano? Soriano could DH and not hit and Burnett could finally get his ERA up past 6.00. Then the Cubs could trade him to Boston for GM Epstein. Just saying.

I can’t get used to the new name for the Marlins. I still like their old uniforms. Of course no one liked their old stadium and they now get to play in a ballpark instead of a football cavern. I can’t get used to Jeffrey Loria spending money but I’m confident that once the Miami Marlins win the World Series, he’ll follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and sell anyone with talent to the highest bidder.

Oh yeah-we’re still stuck with Bud Selig. In 2014, every team will make the playoffs.  Can’t wait.

Any player/Any era: Doug Glanville

What he did: I first knew Doug Glanville as a name from my baseball card collection and the sports page when I was growing up in the 1990s. This is how it often goes, and in the years since I started writing about baseball regularly, it’s always been a funny feeling to meet a player whose card I might have had. Glanville’s gone on to other things since his nine-year career ended, and I know him as much now for his baseball writing. I’ve read some of his work for ESPN, and his 2010 book, The Game from Where I Stand is on my list of things to read. We started corresponding on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, which spurred me to give his stats another look, and I learned something else: Glanville’s another player who would’ve benefited greatly in a different era.

Glanville hit .277 for his career with an OPS+ of 78, a light-hitting centerfielder who didn’t much walk or hit for power. For the most part, he excelled in two areas, base-stealing and defense, with him swiping 168 bags at an 82 percent success rate and accumulating 5.9 lifetime defensive WAR. Glanville played at the height of the Steroid Era, 1996 to 2004, and his strongest assets were undervalued. In a different era, he might not have had a year like 1999 where he took advantage of historically good conditions for hitters and batted .325 with 204 hits to earn his largest contract. But he might have had a longer career.

Era he might have thrived in: We’re going with the 1980s St. Louis Cardinals, a perennial contender that favored defense and base stealing. Glanville would have fit in well with the likes of Ozzie Smith, Vince Coleman, and Willie McGee.

Why: I considered placing Glanville in the 1930s, of course suspending disbelief about him being unable play in the majors as an African American before 1947. For the 1930 Phillies, the Baseball-Reference.com stat converter has Glanville hitting .346 with an .884 OPS and a not-bad-for-then 50 walks. Consider that Chuck Klein hit .386 in 1930 and walked just 54 times. But I wanted an era where Glanville would maximize his base stealing, and the 1930s, anytime between 1920 and 1960 really, wasn’t it. Stolen base totals were generally low then, and rare kings like George Case in the 1940s did it without much help. Glanville told me his prowess was a combination of talent and coaching, with him becoming a lot more efficient in the minors, and this earns him the trip to Stolen Base U, which was St. Louis in the ’80s.

The Cardinals don’t have the record for stolen bases in a season, which goes to the 1976 Oakland Athletics who stole an ungodly 341 bases and had eight players with at least 20 steals. But where those A’s were a free-running aberration, the Cardinals more or less dominated the base paths for a decade, averaging 204.5 steals a year for the ’80s. It fit with manager Whitey Herzog’s “Whiteyball” strategy which favored pitching, speed, and defense, and Glanville had two of those three assets in abundance. The Baseball-Reference.com stat converter has issues projecting stolen base totals, but one of my readers suggested that with a license to run freely, Glanville might’ve had 80 or 90 steals in a season and supplanted Coleman, the least-talented Cardinals outfielder.

St. Louis won the World Series in 1982 with a 200 stolen base team and very nearly won it in 1985 and 1987 with teams that stole 314 and 248 bases, respectively. Perhaps Glanville’s presence would have pushed St. Louis to greater heights.

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

Similar to Doug Glanville: Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseRickey HendersonVada Pinson

Others in this series: Al SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News RockiesBarry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob WatsonBobby VeachCarl MaysCesar CedenoCharles Victory FaustChris von der AheDenny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleEddie LopatElmer FlickFrank HowardGavvy Cravath, George W. Bush (as commissioner)George WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJack MorrisJackie RobinsonJim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film)Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertOllie CarnegiePaul DerringerPedro GuerreroPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRoberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam ThompsonSandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays

An open letter to the Hall of Fame: Consider honoring Robert Creamer this summer

To whom it may concern:

My name is Graham Womack, and I am founder and editor of Baseball: Past and Present. I had the pleasure recently to conduct an interview with founding Sports Illustrated writer and celebrated baseball author Robert Creamer for my site. I couldn’t have asked for a better interview, and it’s had a phenomenal reception.

I’m writing with an idea.

Part of the reason the Creamer interview went as well as it did was that he was wonderfully introspective in his answers, taking more than two weeks to reply to my 10 questions and offering almost 5,000 words worth of answers. He spoke of many things, such as going to his first game in 1931, the changes he’s seen over the years, and who he considered the greatest player that he covered (“Willie Mays. Period.”) I asked Creamer about his favorite baseball memories and he told me, among other things:

Seeing Babe Ruth hit home runs; I saw Babe play at least one game in 1932, 1933 and 1934, his last three seasons with the Yankees, and each time I saw him he hit a home run (a couple of times it was a doubleheader and he hit a homer in one of the games, but he hit one.) In short I have the thrill of remembering what a Ruthian homer looked like up close – simply gorgeous. That beautiful swing and Ruth’s big face looking up watching it go as he starts to run. And the ball, already enormously high in the air as it floated past the infield. I mean, I saw Babe Ruth hit home runs.

I can’t even begin to describe how cool it was to get to do this interview.

As I mentioned, the interview got an overwhelmingly positive response from readers. It’s been linked to on a few major baseball sites. Major League Baseball official historian John Thorn tweeted, “Just the best thing I can recall reading.” And even if Creamer hadn’t given such an outstanding interview, I sense there still would have been an outpouring of support for him. The man seems universally loved by baseball fans, rightfully so. At 89, he’s a treasure, and I hope he lives and writes many more years.

Which gets me to my idea.

Robert Creamer will turn 90 on July 14 of this year. The annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will take place about a week later. What better present to offer Creamer (and baseball) than an award? As a writer,  Creamer can’t be enshrined in Cooperstown, and he’s not even currently eligible for the “Scribes and Mikemen” exhibit, since it only honors newspaper reporters and broadcasters. I have something in mind to remedy this.

I suggest the creation of the Robert W. Creamer Award, to be presented annually to any non-newspaper writer who’s fostered greater love or appreciation of baseball. I’ll even offer an inaugural class: Roger Angell, Roger Kahn, Bill James, Lawrence Ritter, and Creamer. It’s a travesty none of these men have been honored simply because they didn’t write for a newspaper (frankly, keeping the award tied to one seems arcane in the 21st century.) I could nominate Creamer for the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, but that goes out only once every three years and seems insufficient to honor the great backlog of writers. I suggest the Creamer Award winners be featured in the press exhibit, next to the J.G. Taylor Spink Award winners for newspapermen and the Ford C. Frick Award winners for broadcasters.

I am admittedly a geek for this kind of thing. I went through college thinking I would be a sportswriter, and I’ve read the work of a fair number of men in the writers exhibit. I’ll probably take a look at it the next time I go to Cooperstown, though I wouldn’t subject anyone else to it. But I’d want to tell my son or daughter, if I had one, about Creamer, the man who helped found the greatest sports magazine ever, wrote two of the finest baseball books around, and selflessly showed kindness to me, some random, young blogger. I imagine he’s quietly been helping people for decades.

Creamer deserves more than I can possibly give. But it’d be nice to see the Hall of Fame join me in saying thank you.

Best wishes,

Graham Womack

Roy Oswalt Explains How Steroid Users Cheat Him and Us

Editor’s note: Please welcome the latest from Joe Guzzardi. There are still a range of opinions in the steroid debate, and I welcome as many of them as possible here.

__________________

I’m going to keep the Hot Stove stoked by returning to the fascinating Hall of Fame debates presented at Baseball Past and Present over the last couple of weeks.

Specifically, I’ll address the upcoming challenge the BBWAA faces regarding the 2013 and subsequent classes that will include suspected and confirmed steroid users. To vote or not to vote—that is their question.

Many of the writers who have strongly hinted that they will vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and eventually Alex Rodriguez explain their decision by saying that “during the era” in which they played, PEDs were commonplace.

I’ve pointed out, however, that while PEDs were indeed widely embraced, many outstanding players never touched them. The clean players, therefore, suffer in comparison. “So and so” took PEDs, racked up impressive numbers, earned larger contracts and possibly won post-season awards. “Mr. Straight Arrow” never touched the stuff, finished way down in the season totals and was never considered for the MVP or Cy Young.

No one has expressed this sentiment better than Roy Oswalt. Oswalt insists that admitted PED users like Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte have stained all baseball players.

Said Oswalt:

“I feel like they have cheated me out of the game because of the way they have enhanced themselves but I’ve done it by working out. I feel that going out there natural against those guys that are taking the drugs is not fair to me. They’re already All-Star players and they’re taking drugs. That’s not fair to me. They’re cheating.”

Oswalt continued:

“They may have beaten you in the game where naturally they may not have been able to. It may have cost me a win or my club not getting in the World Series. I don’t think it’s fair from my standpoint.

     “Their numbers shouldn’t count. They should have their own record book, and it shouldn’t count. All the guys before us they’re cheating them. These guys from the past are in the Hall of Fame, and these guys (who are on steroids) are breaking their records. It shouldn’t count. It’s not fair.”
As for a solution, Oswalt proposes that:
     “They can have their own record book and they can have their own records. They shouldn’t have it with guys that did it on natural talent that played the game right like I did.” [Astros’ Oswald Backs Berkman, Calls Out Steroid Users, by Jose de Jesus Ortiz, Houston Chronicle, February 10, 2009]
As I review Oswalt’s comments, I wonder where, if anywhere, is he wrong?
The BBWAA has an option other than Oswalt’s suggestion that abusers have their “own record book,” however.
Vote only for players known to be steroid free.

An interview with Robert Creamer

He was born when Babe Ruth was in just his third season as a Yankee slugger. He went to his first baseball game when John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson were still managing. His tenure at Sports Illustrated began months before the first issue of the magazine printed in 1954. And recently, I found Robert Creamer, original SI writer and author of celebrated biographies on Babe Ruth and Casey Stengel writing as vividly and beautifully as ever at 89.

I had the pleasure to interview Mr. Creamer (Bob, as he insisted I call him) by email recently. I’ve had good experiences with interviews for this blog from Joe Posnanski to Rob Neyer and others, though my experience this time around exceeded all expectations that I had coming in. It was definitely a most unusual interview. The answers came over a two-week span, one and two answers at a time, with Bob footnoting his lengthy emails with apologies for needing more time and explanations that he couldn’t write more that day because of a doctor’s appointment or trip to the grocery store or just age. I chose to be patient, since it seemed wrong and not in my best interest to demand otherwise, and I’m so glad I did. I’ll almost never say this, but for any baseball historian or aspiring writer, the following is a must read.

Many thanks to Marty Appel for helping set this up.

BPP: What still excites you about baseball?

Creamer: That’s easy– the wonder of ‘What happens next?’

When I’m watching a game between teams I’m interested in, sometimes that wonder — and the fullfilment of it, as in the sixth game of the 2011 World Series — can be excruciatingly exciting, and its fullfilment as you watch and wait can be almost literally incredible. Even in an ordinary game, with, say, the miserable Mets, the team I essentially root for, trying to hold on to a one-run lead in the last of the eighth against, say, the Brewers with Ryan Braun at bat, two out and the bases loaded, can keep me glued to the television set. What’s going to happen next? Is Braun going to fist a two-run single to put Milwaukee ahead, or is this occasionally effective reliever going to get Braun to lift an easy fly to center to get us out of the inning? For me, the wait, the anticipation, is still tremendous

I have occasionally quoted my long-ago family doctor who once said to me, “Baseball is a game of limitless dramatic possibility.” We’ve come close to the limit — Bobby Thomson’s home run 60 years ago, the Cardinals last fall — but we haven’t reached it yet.

A retired scout told me baseball changes too much every ten years to allow for comparisons between different eras. What sort of changes have you seen in your lifetime?

Your baseball scout is right on the money, though I would love to read about the changes he’s been most aware of. Me, I forget what an antiquity I am, not just dating from when I began following big league baseball as a little [boy] but later when I started writing about it and even later when I retired from Sports Illustrated, which in itself is a long time ago.

I first became intensely aware of big league baseball in the summer of 1931, when I was nine. My big brother, who was six years older than I, took me to my first major league game, or games — it was a doubleheader between the old New York Giants and the old Brooklyn Dodgers in the old Polo Grounds on the banks of the Harlem River in New York, below the steep hillside known as Coogan’s Bluff. John McGraw was still managing the Giants and Wilbert Robinson the Dodgers, who were generally known as the Robins. Headlines would sometimes refer to the Robins as “the Flock,” as in flock of birds. I’m not sure if team nicknames were technically formal at that time. If not they soon were. Both McGraw and Robinson ended their managerial careers in 1932, and the Robins nickname soon disappeared as “Dodgers” returned. The new manager was Max Carey, whose real name was, I believe, “Canarius.” One sportswriter, Tom Meany, bowing to Max, suggested the team’s new nickname be the Canaries, but it didn’t take.

Nicknames were just that at the time, nicknames, but they became big business later, as did every part of baseball.

I digress, as I always do. Changes I’ve been aware of…. The biggest I can think of offhand are: 1) night baseball, which in the major leagues started very small in the mid 1930s and kept growing and growing; 2) the arrival of Jackie Robinson and the great black players who followed him (Willie Mays joined the Giants only four years after Jackie reached the Dodgers); 3) the big impact of radio broadcasting of home and, later, away games in the New York area where I grew up, first with Red Barber and then Mel Allen and the others; 4) television coverage beginning small in the late 1940s and early 1950s and then exploding in the 1960s; 5) the great expansion of interest in basketball and football in the 1960s and later, which led to a significant decline in the number of American kids concentrating on baseball; 6) the concomitant expansion of the number of Caribbean and other foreign players in the major leagues; 7) the vastly greater size and much better year-round physical condition of major league players today, a change that progressed year by year or decade by decade and began long before all the attention paid to steroids. Some day compare the heights and weights of, say, the great 1927 New York Yankees with any major league team of the last ten or twenty years.

It’s hard to say which changes were most important – what have I forgotten? — but I’d say the sheer size and physical condition of the players today is the most important factor in the changes in the way the game is played today.

And I haven’t touched on the tactical and strategic changes – most notably in the multiple pitching substitutions during games today.

Is baseball still America’s pastime?

No. It’s our spectator sport and I think possibly still our biggest spectator sport, and we love to read about it and talk about it and watch it on TV but nobody PLAYS baseball anymore. Softball, yes,but today everybody plays basketball or touch football whereas a century ago EVERYBODY played baseball. If you can find an old newspaper file from around 1912, ten years before I was born, look at the coverage of games on Saturdays and particularly Sundays – dozens of games, club teams, neighborhood teams, small town teams, political clubs, social clubs. It’s astonishing.

You wrote the foreword to one of Lawrence Ritter’s books. Do you think there’s a living group of players who’d merit another edition of The Glory of Their Times?

I’ll get a little passionate here. I think Larry Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times is the single best baseball book that’s ever been published. I think it stands alone, like Mount Everest, better even than Angell or Kahn or the other terrific efforts. Regarding Ritter, there were several books written in imitation of it later — interviews with old players — a couple I think by the very competent Don Honig — that are informative and fun to read, but compared to “Glory” they’re like watching a good high school game after seeing the Rangers versus the Cards last fall.

What I am saying is that it would be impossible to write another edition of The Glory of Their Times. It was a unique subject. Ritter was a unique writer.

But if a Don Honig were available and the players were available I’d love to read such a book about the era from approximately 1982 or 1983 to 2004 or 2005, 20 extraordinary years with many remarkable players — the era of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, so many singular players, so many significant events.

Who’s the greatest baseball player you covered?

Willie Mays. Period.

I seem to remember that Bill James, using his fabulous, desiccated statistics, demonstrated that Mickey Mantle, who was Willie’s almost exact contemporary, was actually the better player, and I’m not equipped to argue with Bill, although I’ll try. And there are DiMaggio, Williams, Musial, Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez – no, wait. I didn’t cover DiMaggio, who retired after the 1951 season — I didn’t start with Sports Illustrated until 1954. But that’s still a pretty impressive collection of players to put Willie on top of.

I saw Mays play a lot. My father and I were in the moderate crowd at the Polo Grounds in May 1951 when Willie played his first game for the Giants. My father was only a mild baseball fan, although he told me his favorite ballplayer when he was a kid in New York back at the beginning of the 20th century was a bearded outfielder for the Giants named George Van Haltren, which indicates a certain degree of baseball intensity. In any case he and I drove down from Tuckahoe to the Polo Grounds, bought tickets (which you could do then) and sat in the lower stands between home and first base. Willie had broken in a few days earlier in Philadelphia where he went 0 for 12 in three games. He was batting third which if it seems a high spot for a brand-new rookie seemed a proper spot to take a look at a rookie who had been batting something like .477 in the minors.

The top of the first took some of the fun out of the game right away. Warren Spahn was pitching for the Boston Braves and in the top of the first Bob Elliott hit a three-run homer for Boston, which took a lot of the starch out of the Giant fans. If Spahn was on, and had a three-run lead already, we didn’t have a prayer. Spahn set the first two Giants down in order and here came Willie, our fabulous new rookie. I forget what the count went to — a ball and a strike, something like that. Spahn threw the next pitch and Willie hit it on a line high and deep to left center field. I cannot recall if it hit the wooden façade high in left field or went over the roof and out of the park. All I remember is the electric excitement that shot through the park at the sound and sight of our precious rookie in his first at-bat in New York hitting a tremendous home run off the great Spahn. “He’s real!” was the feeling. “He’s real!”

Never mind that Spahn closed him down and the rest of the Giants the rest of the night. Never mind that Willie went another 13 times at bat before getting another hit, It didn’t matter — as he subsequently demonstrated, time and time again. He was here.

I saw a lot of Willie Mays, and that certainly gave me a strong bias towards him. But I saw a lot of Mantle too and was deeply impressed by what he could do. Yet Willie stayed above Mickey in my mind, then and forever. I saw the famous catch Willie made against Vic Wertz in the Polo Grounds in the 1954 World Series but later on I saw him make a catch in Cincinnati’s old ball field, Crosley Field. My memory says Crosley had a steep warning bank against the left-field fence. A Cincinnati runner was on first base when the batter sent a tremendous fly ball to deep left center. Willie went up the bank, leaped, made a spectacular catch, turned and as he was falling threw the ball on a line to first base where he just missed doubling off the base runner. Simply an amazing play, and he kept doing things like that.

I saw him in San Francisco after the Giants moved out there almost single-handedly destroy the Braves, now pennant winners from Milwaukee. He could rise to a pitch of intensity that was almost unbelievable, creating an excitement that I have never forgotten. I think of two somewhat parallel plays — double plays started by centerfielders, one by DiMaggio, which I saw on primitive television in the late 1940s, and another by Mays against the Dodgers, which I didn’t see but which I read and heard about for years. In Yankee Stadium the Yankees were beating the lowly St. Louis Browns something like five to one in the ninth inning. I believe the bases were loaded but I’m not sure and I’m not sure it matters. But there was a man on first base. There was one out and the Browns’ batter lifted a little pop fly into the dead area between second base, center field and right field. Neither the second baseman nor the right fielder had a chance for the ball. The old-fashioned TV setup of those days had one camera focused on the area and it showed DiMaggio running in from center field toward where the ball might fall.

There wasn’t a chance he could catch it and the runner on first place took off, running as hard as he could. DiMaggio kept running — he was very, very fast although he never looked fast because of his long loping stride, and he was running straight at the camera. which seemed to be set up near the dugout on the first-base side of home. It seemed to take forever. But DiMaggio, loping in, reached his gloved hand forward, stretched out and caught the ball inches off the ground; he slowly straightened up and without changing his expression or his gait loped across first base to complete a double play that ended the game, kept jogging toward the camera and the dugout and disappeared into the dugout and the clubhouse behind it, without ever changing his expression. It was simply extraordinary, unforgettable.

Willie’s center field double play was different. I don’t recall that it was the ninth inning, I don’t recall that it was a game-ender. But it was a late inning in a game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers and a very close game, one out with a Dodger on third base. Again, the batter hit a sickly little pop fly into short right-field. The right fielder was too deep to get to it, the second baseman was in too close, possibly thinking to cut off a run at the plate. Willie, who was also unbelievably fast, came racing across from center field and there seemed a possibility that he could make a diving catch and get the ball. The Dodger third-base coach held the runner at third, figuring that whether Mays got to the ball or not he’d be running full tilt toward the first-base foul line as he fell and would be unable to get up, turn and throw to the plate in time to cut down the runner. Willie did catch the ball, tumbling toward the ground as he did, and the coach sent the runner toward the plate. Willie fell to the ground as anticipated but as he fell he twisted his body and made a perfect throw to the catcher to double up the base runner. It was an unbelievable play, as wild and extravagant as DiMaggio’s was cool and perfect. But it showed one of the characteristics Mays had in abundance — the extraordinary ability to rise (or, in this case, fall) to an occasion

One other point about Mays. Ordinarily I don’t like longevity being so important in the evaluation of a ballplayer. There must be half a dozen ballplayers in the Hall of Fame who are there because they hung around year after year. Even Ted Williams, unquestionably one of the very greatest ever to play the game, got extra points because of all those extra seasons he had with the Red Sox during the 1950s after he got back from Korea. He hit a lot of home runs and had a couple of extraordinary batting averages but if you look at his record closely and compare it to his fabulous seasons from 1939 into the 1950s he is simply not the same ballplayer, not the same hitter. His runs scored and runs batted in are sadly diminished, not anywhere near the astonishing numbers of his earlier years.

Yet I offer Mays’ physical strength and durability as added reasons for his greatness. I don’t want to take the time now to dig out the Baseball Encyclopedia and cite numbers. But take a look and see how many times in the old 154-game schedules he played 150 games or more, or close to it. He not only played at an all-star level, he did it longer and more consistently than any other of the really great players

Maybe these aren’t good arguments for Mays as the greatest, but, oh, if you could have seen him play, feel the exuberance, see the quick, brilliant baseball mind at work, see the things he could do.

What are your most treasured baseball memories?

This is a very tough question to answer, first of all because some of one’s most treasured memories have nothing to do with the big leagues but with personal experience. I remember when I was about nine around 1930 being in our backyard with my grumpy old grandfather. I was throwing a rubber ball against the back of our neighbors’ garage and trying to field it. Suddenly Pop asked me “You like baseball?” I said “Sure!” He said “What position do you play?” I said,”Shortstop,” which was simply a nine-year-old’s dream back before Little League and organized kids sports. He said, “I used to play shortstop,” and I was astonished. This cranky old man had played baseball? Had played shortstop?

That’s all I remember of the conversation, but some time later the local daily ran a sentimental Look-Back issue, reprinting pages from an 1890 newspaper, and there was a story about the Mt. Vernon All-Stars beating the Wakefield 200, and there in the boxscore was my grandfather’s name — Fred Watts, ss. — and he had a hit! And my uncle John Brett played right field. It wasn’t until years later that I realized it must’ve been a picnic-type game for a barrel of beer, but for a kid, seeing his grandfather’s name in the newspaper playing shortstop for the “Stars”– that was a thrill I still remember. There are a lot of non-pro things I can recall and which meant then and still do now a great deal to me.

But big-league baseball memories — seeing Willie break in is a tremendous memory, and the other things he did. Seeing Babe Ruth hit home runs; I saw Babe play at least one game in 1932, 1933 and 1934, his last three seasons with the Yankees, and each time I saw him he hit a home run (a couple of times it was a doubleheader and he hit a homer in one of the games, but he hit one.) In short I have the thrill of remembering what a Ruthian homer looked like up close – simply gorgeous. That beautiful swing and Ruth’s big face looking up watching it go as he starts to run. And the ball, already enormously high in the air as it floated past the infield. I mean, I saw Babe Ruth hit home runs.

As mentioned earlier I saw John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson in uniform managing in 1931. In 1954 during an old timers game I sat on the bench in Yankee Stadium near Connie Mack and Cy Young and watched a middle-aged Lefty Grove kidding with those two old men. I got a thrill every time I had a chance to talk to or (much more important) listen to Casey Stengel. I got to know Mickey Mantle, who the New York sportswriters didn’t much like, and found, when you got past the shyness and antagonism toward strangers, that he was a nice, kind of diffident young guy.

I didn’t think about it at the time but looking back I think the relatively close association with certain players created a host of treasured memories — not necessarily the great players like Mays and Mantle but the bright, relatively obscure players like Monte Irvin, Gil MacDougald, Al Smith, Jerry Coleman, Wally Moon, Rocky Bridges, Bill White. It seems childish but I remember them more warmly and I think with more excitement than the intermix with the great stars.

This is a sorry answer. I should have specific moments of baseball history– like Willie’s great catch of Vic Wertz’s huge fly ball in the first game of the 1954 World Series, which I saw standing with Roger Kahn as we got ready to go around the stands to post-game stuff in the centerfield clubhouses.

You’ve written biographies on Casey Stengel and Babe Ruth. If steroids had been a part of the game when Stengel and Ruth were players, do you think they would have used?

Sure. Yes. Absolutely. Hell, for decades before the big scandal about steroids in baseball, clubhouses used to have plates or dishes filled with little candy-like pills players gulped or chewed on routinely. My mind is gone – I forget what they were called.. Uppers? Bennies? I can’t recall. But that was standard. Athletes are always looking for an edge and that was a way to get them fired up. I have never been as upset by steroid use as the moralistic holier-than-thou baseball writers who vote on the Hall of Fame. What a bunch of self-important phonies!

I mean, you’d think all an ordinary player would have to do is take steroids to hit 70 home runs or bat .350. But I think McGwire was telling the truth — he took steroids to hold back distress, to make him physically able to play the game. Steroids don’t make a player good. Think of the hundreds, even thousands of players who have been in and out of the major leagues and who may have dabbled in steroids and think how few have hit 50, let alone 60 or 70 homers. Sure, every two-bit hitter in the lineup seems able to drive the ball over the outfield fences, but that has as much to do with the dimensions of the fields and the dimensions of the players, even without steroids. As mentioned earlier in this interview one of the great changes in the game over the decades has been the increasing size of the players. They’re enormous compared to the players of 80 years ago and more than enormous compared to those of 120 years ago.

One other thing that ought to engage the moralists, some of whom still bleed tears for poor old Shoeless Joe Jackson and feisty Pete Rose. Jackson took money to throw ball games. That’s a fact. Whether he actually threw a game or not is beside the point. He AGREED to play badly for money. Rose brought betting on games into the clubhouse, which is horrible, despite all the warnings against doing so, despite the evidence that gambling corrupts sport. I think both of them should be in the Hall of Fame — tell the truth about them on their plaques: they were superb players but moral midgets — but both should continue to be banned from active participation in the game, either posthumously or not.

But the terrible sinners who took steroids were doing what? They were trying to get better, trying to improve themselves (foolishly), trying to win. They were wrong but their motives in a way were admirable.

A new season of Hall of Fame voting was recently upon us which also means the Baseball Writers Association of America announced the 2012 winner for its J.G. Taylor Spink Award. Does it irk you that the award is solely for newspaper reporters and not magazine writers like yourself?

The BBWAA was an important and valuable organization when it was founded back in the 1910s and it continued to be vigorous and important until the 1950s, when TV began to boom and newspapers began to die. In the middle 1950s just after Sports Illustrated began it rankled me that the BBWAA kept non-newspaper sportswriters like me out but it quickly became a non-issue. It simply did not matter. In its early years I believe the BBWAA controlled the pressboxes but in my experience the clubs’ PR people did, so who needed the BBWAA? It existed for the Baseball Writers Dinner, which used to be great fun and may still be, but otherwise it simply does not mean much anymore, and its annual award is just another item of clutter, a good-attendance medal. In the last fifty years I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a magazine writer or a TV broadcaster moan because he or she wasn’t a member. Or maybe they do complain but who really cares? I hope I don’t sound bitter or spiteful because I don’t feel that way. I just don’t think the BBWAA has much significance. I’m not complaining, honest. I know I’ve written some good stuff but I’ve never felt I was on a level with, say, Larry Ritter, John Lardner, Ed Linn or Roger Angell, and I don’t recall any of them being given awards by the BBWAA. Perhaps I’m wrong but to answer your question, no, it doesn’t irk me.

Jimmy Cannon once said that being a sportswriter is like living in a prolonged boyhood. How much has this held true through your life?

Ah, Jimmy Cannon. There aren’t a lot of my generation still hanging around, so I can’t produce validation of the following opinion. Still, I’ll toss it on the table, if only to stimulate discussion.

Jimmy Cannon’s reputation as a great sportswriter was much larger with people who didn’t work with him, or who came across selected pieces of his work after he more or less disappeared from the scene. I believe the mild aversion among his generation to outspoken praise for Cannon derived at least in part from his own fascination with his writing and his constant need for praise, for reassurance.

I was a little surprised by the quote you cite, that Jimmy once said being a sportswriter was like living a prolonged boyhood. To me, that implies prolonged happiness, a carefree existence. Now I didn’t know Cannon — I may have met him once or twice, and I certainly remember being in press boxes with him — but I wasn’t a conversational friend of his as I was with so many sportswriters of that era. But from my observation of him and the many stories I heard about him, Jimmy Cannon seemed the opposite of carefree and happy. He often looked worried. I always felt he worried about his writing. My impression was that he wanted everything he wrote to be great or, maybe more important, to be considered great. Sometimes it was. I remember being knocked out by some Cannon columns, some lines, some phrases — pieces that were simply superb.

But the next piece could just as well be overwrought, overdone, overwritten, mawkish. Here’s an anecdote that bears this out. Jimmy once bearded Frank Graham, a kind and gentle man. I always felt that Frank’s best work — usually plain, simple, low-key writing — was about as good as sportswriting could get. Always controlled, maybe too controlled. It was very different from Jimmy’s, yet Jimmy had high regard for Frank, so much so that he went to him and asked what he, Graham, thought of his, Cannon’s, work. Graham tried to tap-dance his way through an answer because he knew Cannon wanted praise, unfettered praise, even though Cannon’s style was at the other end of the spectrum from Graham’s. Frank kept dancing around the subject, knowing how sensitive Cannon was. Jimmy was insistent and finally Frank gave in. He said, “Jimmy, you’re like a young pitcher. Great fastball, no control.”

That for me sums up Cannon’s writing. Here and there it was fabulous, and those were the pieces that were reprinted and which established his reputation. But he turned out a lot of tiresome blah too. And he got lazy, as we all do. In 1951 he wrote an extraordinary column after the Giants came from 16 games back to tie the Dodgers and force a playoff for the pennant, which came down to one final game. Cannon wrote his column from the point of view of Charlie Dressen, the Brooklyn manager, who was wonderful in many ways but didn’t know how to rise to greatness. Cannon began his column (I can’t remember the exact words) “You’re Charlie Dressen and you’ve got one game to show what you can do.” I forget Cannon’s words, which were a million times better than that. It was a superb piece –one of the best ever to appear on a sports page — but Cannon used the format so frequently after that that it became a cliche. “You’re Mickey Mantle… You’re Joe Louis… etc.” I remember a wonderfully funny parody of it by another writer (not me) that began, “You’re Jimmy Cannon and you’ve got a column to fill.’

So I think Cannon was very good but not all the time. I think his line about “prolonged boyhood” was pleasant bullshit, nothing more. Was it prolonged boyhood? I can remember too many nights in distant hotels writing through the night trying to get a damned story to work. Sure, it was fun, great fun, but for me working for Sports Illustrated was the best part of the fun. Getting a story and getting it written– and getting from home to the story and back again later– was work. Nice work, and I was delighted to have it. But still work.

Has there been a philosophy or ethos you’ve tried to follow through your writing career?

I found out when I was quite young that writing was something I could do. Other kids could do things well that I couldn’t do well, like whistling through your teeth or shooting marbles or drawing pictures or singing in harmony or doing push-ups. I was inept or at best mediocre in these areas. But I could write — it was just something I could do. I liked writing. I liked doing what we called “compositions,” which most kids hated to do. I liked reading stuff, which most kids weren’t fond of.

So reading and writing were second nature to me and the jobs I got when I was young almost all related to writing. Not sports-writing necessarily, even though I was a big sports fan, a big sports-page fan. Just writing. I was 31 before I got my first full-time sports-writing job — with the still in utero Sports Illustrated in March of 1954, five months before we published our first issue in August of that year.

But I had read sportswriters intently and, without consciously doing so, had formed an idea of who was good or even great and who was not. The three I admired most were Red Smith (New York Herald-Tribune), Frank Graham (New York Sun and then New York Journal-American), and John Lardner (Newsweek and various monthly magazines, but not ever Sports Illustrated.) I think Lardner was the best writer who ever wrote regularly on sports but Red Smith, because he wrote beautifully too and because he did his wonderful columns EVERY day – or at any rate six times a week – was the de facto king. My god, what terrific stuff he turned out for the Herald-Trib day after day.

Okay, this is a long-winded way of getting around to answering your question. You ask about “my writing career” and whether I had a philosophy or ethos about it. When I was young I thought I was the best writer in the world, or at least that I was as good as anyone else. Over the years as I found and marveled at writers of great skill and accomplishment I began to understand that I was okay but that there were a lot of writers, male and female, who were better than I, and who could do things I couldn’t do.

Part of that sobering up process came from an appreciation of something Red Smith said (or wrote — probably both) when he was at the height of his admirable career. I may have the precise quote wrong but essentially Red, a newspaperman through and through, said, “It’s important to remember that today’s poetry gets wrapped around tomorrow’s fish.”

Amen.

__________________

Other interviews: Joe PosnanskiRob NeyerJosh WilkerJohn ThornHank Greenwald, Dan Szymborski

The underrated Frank Tanana

I’m kind of addicted to the SABR Baseball List and Record Book. I pour through it, running my finger down the lines.

In addition to all the repeated luminous names of greats, a lesser known, certainly lesser celebrated name pops up a ton: Frank Tanana. Now, maybe it pops up because I like bananas or I remember him as being incredibly tough on the Orioles (he pitched 335 IPs against the Orioles with a 2.96 ERA, and 1.20 WHIP but had just a 22-19 record), but he definitely put up some amazing numbers throughout a long career that, I think, compares favorably to other noteworthy hurlers, as you’ll see below.

Frank Tanana: He had longevity on his side (even though an arm injury zapped his 100+ MPH fastball early in his career.) He appeared in the 42nd most games by a left-handed pitcher. His 638 games (616 starts) were one behind Mike Remlinger, 13 behind Wilbur Wood, and 16 behind Billy Wagner and Chuck McElroy. He started so many games that he appeared more than most LOOGYs could ever dream of.

In fact, his 616 starts are the 17th most in MLB history and he pitched the 33rd most innings in history, the 7th most by a southpaw. It amazes me that, in the long tenured history of the game, Tanana threw more innings that just about any other left hander to ever toe the rubber.

With all that success and innings, Tanana finished with the 12th most wins by a left-handed pitcher in MLB history (of course, he has the 16th most loses in MLB history as well). He won at least 10 games in 14 of his 21 seasons – only 25 pitchers in baseball history have more 10 win seasons. This mark is tied with folks like Jack Morris, Milt Papas, Lefty Grove, Kid Nichols, Bob Gibson, Christy Mathewson and others. He also won a game in 21 different seasons, tied for the 17th most seasons in MLB history with a win.

In addition, Tanana struck out a ton of batters. His 2,773 Ks are the 21st most in a career since 1893, and the fourth most in MLB history by a lefty.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, his 55.1 WAR is 59th all time among pitchers. It is higher than Sandy Koufax, Red Ruffing, Bob Caruthers, Early Wynn, Waite Hoyt, Jack Morris, Jim Kaat, Hoyt Wilhelm, Herb Pennock, Catfish Hunter and pretty much the majority of people who ever pitched an inning in MLB history.

You can say Tanana was mostly an accumulator if you want. But he was as good as it gets from 1975-1977. During those three seasons, he averaged 262 innings, a 2.53 ERA, 141 ERA+, 1.06 WHIP, and a 3.55 K:BB rate.

He tied for fourth in CY Young voting in ’74, while he was arguably just as good as Jim Palmer and Catfish Hunter and certainly more valuable than Rollie Fingers. In ’75, he finished third, again behind Palmer (who he was almost assuredly better than) and Mark Fidrych (who probably deserved the CY Young). In ’77, his 9th place finish was a travesty.

Nolan Ryan: The Ryan Express started about 170 more games than Tanana, pitched roughly 1,200 more innings and struck out a whole lot more batters. Ryan is often considered the preeminent compiler of them all. He pitched for so long, but he did so excellently. The two are linked by more than longevity: from 1973-1979, both Ryan and Tanana were on the same staff. It’s amazing that, with both Tanana and Ryan, the Angels couldn’t be more of a force. Here’s guessing, in the Wild Card Era, that Angels team might have got a World Series or two and we’d remember Tanana a tad differently.

Don Sutton: Sutton has just about 1,100 more innings on his ledger than Tanana. He has more Ks, less walks and a better ERA and WHIP. That said, was Sutton ever great? From 1971-1973 (arguably his best stretch), he averaged 265 innings, a 2.35 ERA, 143 ERA+, 0.99 WHIP and 3.45 K:BB rate. However, he had just three seasons with an ERA+ above 127 and his career ERA+ is 108. Tanana had four seasons with an ERA+ above 127, and his career ERA+ is 106.

Phil Niekro: The master knuckleballer started exactly 100 more games than Tanana. He won more but struck out less and walked more. His ERA and WHIP are strikingly similar to Tanana’s. While Niekro’s career benefited from longevity, he was incredibly dominant for major portions of it. From 1974-1979, he averaged 309 innings, a 3.21 ERA, 125 ERA+, 1.26 WHIP and 1.92 K:BB rate. While he only has four seasons with ERA+s above 125, those seasons were well above, including 1967 (Niekro posted a 1.87 ERA over 207 innings with a 1.06 WHIP).

Lefty Grove: Lefty made round numbers cool, finishing with exactly 300 wins. He lost just 141 games and started only 457, far less than Tanana. While his career was a few years and a couple hundred innings shorter than Tanana’s, Grove amassed some amazing numbers. He lead the league in Ks his first seven seasons and had 11 seasons with an ERA+ at 151 or above. In 1931, he went 31-4 and pitched 288.2 innings with a 2.06 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 2.82 K:BB. Grove was a dominating dominant juggernaut.

Tommy John: John seems to be one of the more beneficial comparisons to Tanana. While he started 84 more games, his ERA and WHIP are certainly similar to Tanana. At his best, from 1968-1970, John averaged 226 innings, a 2.93 ERA, 125 ERA+, 1.26 WHIP and 1.60 K:BB rate. His best was not as good as Tanana’s, but he does get a few extra points for, somehow, lasting longer than Tanana did.

Bert Blyleven: Tanana may be the poor man’s Blyleven; their numbers look somewhat alike if you squint. Blyleven won almost 50 more games in just 54 more starts, but their ERAs and WHIPs are certainly similar. Blyleven blows Tanana away when it comes to gross strike-out numbers, but Blyleven didn’t quite have the sheer peak that Tanana did. Oddly, enough, Blyleven’s best three-year stretch overlapped with Tanana’s. From 1973-1975, Blyleven averaged 294 innings, a 2.72 ERA, 143 ERA+, 1.20 WHIP and 3.25 K:BB rate.

Jack Morris: Morris’s recent 66 percent showing with the writers on the Hall of Fame ballot could serve as the genesis for this article. Black Jack was a God to kids growing up in the late 80s. He was supposedly a mythic figure capable of winning championships on his own. Unfortunately, most heroes don’t live up to a child’s imagination. Morris won just 14 more games than Tanana, pitched 300 less innings, struck out fewer batters and walked more. There isn’t a stretch of his career that matches favorably with Tanana. In fact, if you take out the great success Tanana had early in his career and compare both pitchers from 1977-1989, there isn’t much difference at all.

Jim Kaat: Kaat came pretty close to being enshrined in the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee based on his 25 seasons, 4,530.1 innings and 283 wins. While Tanana’s career benefited from longevity, the entirety of Kaat’s success is simply longevity. He had a two-year peak, from 1974-1975, during which he average 290 innings, a 3.02 ERA, 127 ERA+, 1.25 WHIP and 2.03 K:BB rate. Those were the only years he had a WAR (B-ref) above 5.2. In fact, his only exceptional ERA+ came in just 113 innings in 1972. But, he did win 20 games three times (granted, he led the league in hits allowed four times.) It surprises me that Kaat gets far more attention than Tanana, when, in my opinion, Tanana’s career was clearly better.

While Tanana didn’t really approach greatness after 1977, he remained a consistent solid innings eater. It seems his career compares favorably to several Hall of Famers and several others who have had cases made on their behalf. That being said, Tanana appeared on the Baseball Writers Association of America’s ballot just once, 1999 and received no votes. He might be the best pitcher in baseball history with this distinction.

Why did this happen?

A few things may have worked against Tanana with the writers. He appeared on their ballot the same year as Ryan, who received 98.8 percent of the vote and went on to far more-celebrated exploits in his playing career after he and Tanana parted company. Ryan’s presence may have hurt a bunch of men on the 1999 ballot. Consider the others who received less than 20 percent of the vote: Tommy John, Bert Blyleven, Luis Tiant, Ron Guidry, and Mickey Lolich. None could hope to compare to Ryan.

In addition, Tanana never won 20 games, and topped 16 wins just twice, posting a 240-236 record lifetime. WAR did not exist in 1999, which could have showed that Tanana’s career mark of 55.1 is better than a number of Hall of Famers.

While Tanana eventually found his way to the Red Sox, Mets and Yankees, he pitched for the “premier” franchises for just two years. He pitched in the post-season just twice (Kaat pitched in four post-seasons, two World Series and appeared in nine games.) In 1979, Tanana got one start for the California Angels against the Baltimore Orioles. In 1987, he started one game for the Detroit Tigers against the Minnesota Twins. He didn’t pitch poorly but didn’t pitch well.

In short, Tanana is a poor man’s Blyleven. Both pitchers were banished to mediocre, at best, organizations and never quite received their due. Whereas Blyleven remains one of the better pitchers of all-time, Tanana wasn’t quite as good. Still, I think a decent case could be made for Tanana being included in the Hall of Fame.

The Small Hall (of wWAR)

I may be a stat geek, but I’ve always been captivated by the history of the game. That’s what first drew me to this site. Many sites out there cover statistics. Some even discuss statistics from a historical perspective (a niche I try to fill). This site was different—the coverage of baseball history went beyond the numbers.

While I quickly became a big fan of Graham’s work, I was also very intrigued by the work of Joe Guzzardi. Joe—let’s say—has been around longer than most of the folks I read. I found his writing about the Pacific Coast League fascinating. I also love it when he talks about guys like Robin Roberts and Bob Friend.

Joe recently wrote a post called To the BBWAA: Focus on the Great, Not the Very Good. In the post, Joe explains his “small Hall” stance. It’s not a stance I agree with, but I’ve been intrigued by the idea of a “small Hall” since coming up with my system to rank Hall of Famers (via Weighted WAR and the Hall of wWAR). To get a “small Hall” by wWAR, you just have to pick a higher cutoff than I use for my Hall.

So, let’s see what a Small Hall of wWAR would look like. First, we need to pick our cutoff. In the comments section of Joe’s post, he says:

Sorry, I’m opposed to continuously lowering the bar. I’m fine with the thirteen catchers already induced: Bench, Berra, Campanella, Dickey, Cochrane, etc. In fact, I’d like to vote some of the others out.

So that gives us an idea of where he’d set a cutoff, positionally. Roy Campanella, sadly, has a low wWAR because his career was held back because of his skin color and then it ended early because of a tragic accident that left him paralyzed. Take him out of that group and the lowest wWAR is Mickey Cochrane’s 105.3. There we go—our cutoff is 105 wWAR.

Let’s see what this “Joe Guzzardi Small Hall of wWAR” would look like (player’s wWAR total in parentheses):

Catcher

  • Johnny Bench (158.7)
  • Gary Carter (147.0)
  • Carlton Fisk (129.7)
  • Yogi Berra (123.7)
  • Bill Dickey (107.0)
  • Mickey Cochrane (105.3)

I’m guessing that Joe would enshrine Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk (who rank as the second- and third-best eligible catchers in history). This is one hell of a half dozen receivers. The next-highest rated catchers are Buck Ewing (104.3), Ted Simmons (98.3), Joe Torre (91.9), and Thurman Munson (90.1). I don’t see any of them cracking Joe’s standards. Hall of Fame catchers who would be bumped include Ewing, Gabby Hartnett, (sadly) Campanella, Roger Bresnahan, Ernie Lombardi, Ray Schalk, and Rick Ferrell.

First Base

  • Lou Gehrig (246.9)
  • Cap Anson (205.0)
  • Jimmie Foxx (172.7)
  • Roger Connor (165.2)
  • Dan Brouthers (160.2)
  • Jeff Bagwell (132.6)*
  • Rod Carew (121.2)
  • Johnny Mize (115.8)
  • Ernie Banks (111.3)

Banks appears here because he spent more time at first base than shortstop. You can argue with me about that if you’d like, but I tried to make things as systematic as possible. Again, Jeff Bagwell is the sixth-best eligible first baseman of all time (and best since Foxx). Get this man in the Hall. Following Banks we find Dick Allen (98.1), Willie McCovey (96.4), and Hank Greenberg (95.8). These are tough cuts if you ask me. Soon after that, we start getting to the McGwire/Palmeiro types. This call bumps McCovey, Greenberg, Eddie Murray, George Sisler, Bill Terry, Harmon Killebrew, Jake Beckley, Frank Chance, Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Bottomley, and George Kelly from the Hall.

Second Base

  • Rogers Hornsby (258.0)
  • Eddie Collins (233.9)
  • Nap Lajoie (184.5)
  • Joe Morgan (177.5)
  • Charlie Gehringer (138.0)
  • Frankie Frisch (117.8)
  • Jackie Robinson (113.1)
  • Ross Barnes (105.3)*

Roscoe Barnes, the great American Association infielder, makes it in. The rest of the list is not very surprising. Just on the outside is Bobby Grich (99.9), Roberto Alomar (93.4), Lou Whitaker (93.4), and Ryne Sandberg (92.1). Alomar, Sandberg, Joe Gordon, Bid McPhee, Billy Herman, Johnny Evers, Tony Lazzeri, Bobby Doerr, Nellie Fox, Red Schoendienst, and Bill Mazeroski are bumped.

Third Base

  • Mike Schmidt (197.3)
  • Eddie Mathews (170.5)
  • Wade Boggs (149.0)
  • George Brett (140.3)
  • Home Run Baker (114.4)
  • Ron Santo (110.4)
  • Deacon White (107.1)*

Ron Santo keeps his brand new honor. Also, Deacon White (one of my personal favorite pet cases) gets in. Just missing are Brooks Robinson (100.5), Sal Bando (93.0), and Ken Boyer (87.0). Seeing that makes me think Joe’s cutoff might be more like 100 wWAR. I don’t know how you can keep Brooks Robinson out. Exiting the Hall in this case would be Robinson, Jimmy Collins, Pie Traynor, George Kell, and Freddie Lindstrom.

Shortstop

  • Honus Wagner (259.8)
  • George Davis (149.7)
  • Cal Ripken (143.5)
  • Arky Vaughan (127.7)
  • Robin Yount (117.5)
  • Bill Dahlen (113.2)*

Oh hi there, Bill Dahlen! We saber kids love you! Very interesting to see George Davis rank second, seeing how long it took for him be inducted to the Hall of Fame. Right behind Dahlen we see Jack Glasscock (104.3), Luke Appling (103.0), Barry Larkin (100.2), and Alan Trammell (99.3). Joe also says “I guess I’m sort of okay with Larkin … I’d have been okay if Larkin were passed over, too.” The fact that Joe says this and Larkin sits in that 100–105 wWAR range makes me think that I picked the right cutoff. Shortstops exiting the Hall will be Appling, Larkin, Pee Wee Reese, Bobby Wallace, John Montgomery Ward, Joe Cronin, Hughie Jennings, Lou Boudreau, Ozzie Smith, Dave Bancroft, Joe Tinker, Joe Sewell, Travis Jackson, Luis Aparicio, Phil Rizzuto, and Rabbit Maranville.

Left Field

  • Ted Williams (240.3)
  • Stan Musial (231.8)
  • Rickey Henderson (194.1)
  • Ed Delahanty (140.3)
  • Carl Yastrzemski (139.8)
  • Pete Rose (116.1)**
  • Shoeless Joe Jackson (115.0)**
  • Fred Clarke (110.1)

What a group of players this is! I’m not sure if a Joe Guzzardi Hall of wWAR would include Pete Rose or Shoeless Joe Jackson. Joe does say “I would not vote for anyone suspected of PEDs”, so cheaters are definitely not cool with him. I’ll keep them in the list for now, since the numbers put them there. I also want to point out that just because Pete Rose has the most hits ever, it does not necessarily mean he is the best player not in the Hall of Fame. That’d be our friend Mr. Bagwell.

Anyway, following Fred Clarke (who seems to be criminally underrated, even as a Hall of Famer) Jim O’Rourke (102.3), Jesse Burkett (101.5), Al Simmons (98.0), Goose Goslin (92.6), and … Tim Raines (89.8, wWAR isn’t as bullish on Raines as most saber folks are). O’Rourke, Burkett, Simmons, and Goslin would depart the Hall of Fame along with Ducky Medwick, Willie Stargell, Billy Williams, Zack Wheat, Ralph Kiner, Heinie Manush, Jim Rice, Lou Brock, and Chick Hafey.

Center Field

  • Ty Cobb (305.5)
  • Willie Mays (298.8)
  • Tris Speaker (247.9)
  • Mickey Mantle (228.4)
  • Joe DiMaggio (145.7)
  • Billy Hamilton (118.6)
  • Duke Snider (115.0)

There are not very many center fielders in the Hall of wWAR. But gosh is the position top-heavy. Look at that. Four guys above 200 (225, even). And that doesn’t even include Joltin’ Joe and the Duke. Who’s next? There’s a huge 20 wWAR drop-off before we get to Jimmy Wynn (95.1). Then there’s Richie Ashburn (84.8) and 19th century stars George Gore (82.9) and Paul Hines (78.3). Exiting the Hall would be Ashburn, Hugh Duffy, Larry Doby (again, just because this is purely statistical), Earle Combs, Kirby Puckett, Edd Roush, Earl Averill, Hack Wilson, and Lloyd Waner.

Right Field

  • Babe Ruth (418.9)
  • Hank Aaron (256.8)
  • Mel Ott (187.4)
  • Frank Robinson (170.6)
  • Al Kaline (138.8)
  • Roberto Clemente (131.6)
  • Reggie Jackson (119.5)
  • Sam Crawford (115.2)
  • Paul Waner (112.4)
  • Harry Heilmann (108.2)

There’s a lot of talent here, too. I don’t think anyone will debate the credentials of this list. After Heilmann is a ten wWAR gap, then Larry Walker (98.8), King Kelly (97.3), Tony Gwynn (95.6), and Willie Keeler (94.2). Leaving the Hall would be Kelly, Gwynn, and Keeler, along with Elmer Flick, Dave Winfield, Andre Dawson, Enos Slaughter, Kiki Cuyler, Sam Thompson, Harry Hooper, Sam Rice, Chuck Klein, Ross Youngs, and Tommy (Freakin’) McCarthy. We just booted 36 outfielders.

Designated Hitter

  • Paul Molitor (107.6)

A “small Hall” may not like DHs at all. But if we’re going by the numbers, Molitor would remain the only one. Edgar Martinez is close (100.5). Brian Downing is next, but not close (62.4).

Pitcher

  • Walter Johnson (273.1)
  • Cy Young (231.6)
  • Pete Alexander (191.1)
  • Christy Mathewson (182.2)
  • Tom Seaver (177.5)
  • Lefty Grove (175.4)
  • Bob Gibson (167.8)
  • Kid Nichols (163.4)
  • Gaylord Perry (149.5)
  • Phil Niekro (148.0)
  • Warren Spahn (147.1)
  • Steve Carlton (139.9)
  • Al Spalding (139.0)***
  • Bert Blyleven (136.9)
  • Robin Roberts (134.1)
  • Fergie Jenkins (128.5)
  • Bob Caruthers (120.8)*
  • Eddie Plank (118.9)
  • Nolan Ryan (113.8)
  • Bob Feller (110.6)
  • Don Drysdale (109.5)
  • Juan Marichal (107.6)
  • Carl Hubbell (106.7)
  • John Clarkson (105.4)

Gosh, that’s a nice list of pitchers. My guess is that the less-statistically-inclined are surprised to see Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, and Bert Blyleven rate that highly. Folks, this is what we’ve been talking about. I’m really curious about who comes next on this list, so let’s expand it out a bit:

Tim Keefe (102.8), Ed Walsh (101.5), Red Ruffing (100.7), Jim Palmer (100.4), Old Hoss Radbourn (99.7), Sandy Koufax (96.6), Hal Newhouser (96.0), Jim Bunning (96.0), Kevin Brown (95.9), Wes Ferrell (93.2), Amos Rusie (92.0), Rick Reuschel (91.9), and Dazzy Vance (90.2) all topped 90 wWAR. The one that sticks out here like a sore thumb is Koufax. Can you have any kind of Hall that doesn’t include Koufax? The peak was strong, but this type of small Hall is reserved for dominance and longevity. Sorry, Sandy.

Leaving the Hall: Keefe, Walsh, Ruffing, Palmer, Radbourn, Koufax, Newhouser, Bunning, Rusie, and Vance, along with Mordecai Brown, Ted Lyons, Joe McGinnity, Stan Coveleski, Don Sutton, Vic Willis, Early Wynn, Rube Waddell, Dennis Eckersley, Bob Lemon, Whitey Ford, Red Faber, Clark Griffith, Mickey Welch, Dizzy Dean, Pud Galvin, Lefty Gomez, Burleigh Grimes, Eppa Rixey, Waite Hoyt, Chief Bender, Herb Pennock, Addie Joss, Catfish Hunter, Jack Chesbro, Jesse Haines, and Rube Marquard. That, right there, is a metric ton of Hall of Fame pitching. For the record, Red Faber and everyone listed before him is in the Hall of wWAR.

This Hall would also lose all of its full time relievers (Rich Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Bruce Sutter, and Rollie Fingers), though Gossage comes close at 100.6 wWAR.

* Denotes Not a Hall of Famer
** Denotes Banned from the Hall of Fame
*** Denotes Inducted as a Pioneer, Not as a Player

This new Hall of Fame would currently have just 86 players. If we opened it up to 100 wWAR guys, we would add twelve more: Buck Ewing, Jack Glasscock, Luke Appling, Tim Keefe, Jim O’Rourke, Jesse Burkett, Ed Walsh, Red Ruffing, Rich Gossage, Edgar Martinez, Brooks Robinson, and Jim Palmer.

Which active or retired-but-not-yet-eligible players reach the 105 wWAR threshold?

  • Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez (134.8), Mike Piazza (129.7)
  • First Base: Albert Pujols (174.2, already)
  • Second Base: none
  • Third Base: Chipper Jones (122.0)
  • Shortstop: Alex Rodriguez (189.2)
  • Left Field: Barry Bonds (341.2)
  • Center Field: Ken Griffey (133.0), Jim Edmonds (108.6)
  • Right Field: none
  • Designated Hitter: Frank Thomas (115.4)
  • Starting Pitcher: Roger Clemens (221.8), Greg Maddux (155.4), Randy Johnson (154.5), Pedro Martinez (124.6), Mike Mussina (109.5)
  • Relief Pitcher: Mariano Rivera (154.2)

A few guys are close (though some are retired): Curt Schilling (104.4), Derek Jeter (104.1, active), Jim Thome (102.3, active), Tom Glavine (101.4), Craig Biggio (98.1), Scott Rolen (97.1, active), and Roy Halladay (96.8, active).

Even though we’ve identified a very exclusive Hall of Fame here, there are still actually some players not in the Hall of Fame. Some are banned, but some are not. They are:

  • 1B Jeff Bagwell (132.6)*
  • 2B Ross Barnes (105.3)*
  • 3B/C Deacon White (107.1)*
  • SS Bill Dahlen (113.2)*
  • P/RF Bob Caruthers (120.8)*

We have four players who played at least 100 years ago… and Jeff Bagwell. Personally, I think these five players are the most egregious omissions from the Hall of Fame. My question for any Small Hall advocate is… would you put these guys in? If not, why the heck not?

So, Small Hall folks… what do you think of this? I think it looks pretty good. The biggest things I could see Small Hall advocates balking at are the omissions of Sandy Koufax and maybe Willie McCovey, Hank Greenberg, Harmon Killebrew, and Brooks Robinson while there are non-traditional additions like Jim Edmonds and perhaps Mike Mussina. Bert Blyleven, of course, remains a polarizing figure. I don’t like that John Montgomery Ward is bumped, but if he’s not in as a player, he’d be in as a pioneer.

I like a Hall of Fame that’s bigger than this. But if it’s going to be a Small Hall, I think wWAR does a pretty good job. What says you, Joe?

Any player/Any era: George W. Bush (as commissioner)

What he did: This is a story of two baseball owners, one a used car salesman from Milwaukee, the other a Texas oilman. After Major League Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent was forced to resign in 1992, these two men were looked at by the other owners as possible replacements. Bud Selig of course got the job and continues in it today, nearing his 20th anniversary of becoming commissioner. George W. Bush ran for governor of Texas and six years later, president. The rest is history.

Bush has said he felt God wanted him to lead the country. But it’s easy to see where his interests still lie, from a reference to steroids during his 2004 State of the Union Address to his presence at the World Series this year watching the team he owned in the late 1980s and early ’90s, the Texas Rangers. I haven’t been a huge supporter of Selig as commissioner, and in the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t a fan of the Bush presidency either, though I’d have loved to see what he could’ve done in Selig’s place. Selig has seemed a pawn of the owners, presiding at times spinelessly over troubled stretches for baseball. Love him or hate him, Bush would never have gone for that.

Era he might have thrived in: I wish Bush had been commissioner instead of Selig, not just because it would have kept him away from the Oval Office. He’d have been an asset to baseball. And Bush might have done well heading up the sport at other points in its history, too. With his willingess to have two black Secretary of States, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, perhaps Bush would have stood tall like Happy Chandler against the owners of the mid-1940s who voted 15-1 against Jackie Robinson’s signing. Or Bush could have made an able successor for Ford Frick in the mid-1960s, a marked upgrade over the timid, forgotten William Eckert.

Why: Bush’s brazen approach to foreign policy alienated much of the world and, at least for me, made for eight long years. But this attitude could work well with baseball, where the best commissioners and leaders for the most part have been resolute in their rule and willing to stand up to owners, players, whoever.

Ban Johnson had all the charm of a czar and built the American League, the only upstart to the National League in baseball history that’s survived. Kenesaw Mountain Landis was as autocratic a commissioner as any past federal judge could be expected, sweeping in after the doomed 1919 World Series and ridding baseball of game-fixing scandals that were endemic in the early 1900s. I don’t like what Landis did to systematically keep blacks from the majors in his 20-plus years in office, though he essentially set the standard for commissioners. Others have followed suit in his ruthlessness. Ford Frick crushed the Continental League and helped ignite the expansion movement in the process. Bartlett Giamatti had the guts to ban Pete Rose.

I don’t know what Bush’s claim to fame would be as commissioner. But come to think of it, it isn’t too late for him to make his mark in baseball. Joe Torre just quit a league-level job to make a bid for the Dodgers (as, I would add, John F. Kennedy’s dad tried to do for him in the 1940s.) Maybe it’s time for Bush to see about Torre’s former gig. It would sure beat sitting on some board of directors, or whatever it is the former commander-in-chief is up to now.

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: Al SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News RockiesBarry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob WatsonBobby VeachCarl MaysCesar CedenoCharles Victory FaustChris von der AheDenny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleEddie LopatElmer FlickFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJack MorrisJackie RobinsonJim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film)Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertOllie CarnegiePaul Derringer, Pedro GuerreroPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey HendersonRoberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam ThompsonSandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays

Maury Wills: He revolutionized the game

Introduction

Maurice Morning Wills was the heart and soul of the Los Angeles Dodgers offense. From 1959 to 1966, Chavez Ravine was packed with fans who were the antithesis of today’s stereotyped laid-back, casual Southern California fan. When their lithe shortstop and team captain Wills would get on base, Dodger Stadium rocked with exhortations of “Go….Go….Go.” It came with good reason– Wills revolutionized baseball with his base stealing, setting the stage for speedsters such as Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson. Opposing pitchers and position players alike were seemingly hypnotized, fans were mesmerized, and Wills’ aggressive running helped make Los Angeles great.

A snap-shot summary of Wills’ amazing career

Maury Wills demonstrated that a good little man could be equally effective as a good big man. At 5’10” and 165 pounds, Wills hit 20 home runs in his 14-year career but scored 1,067 runs thanks to savvy base running. He stole 586 bases and was the National League leader in steals for six consecutive years, 1960 to 1965. This included his record-setting single-season mark of 104 in 1962 when Wills broke Ty Cobb’s mark of 96 steals from 1915. Wills, the National League MVP in 1962, even played a record 165 regular season games that year, thanks to the three-game playoff with the Giants that ended the Dodgers’ season.

Other career highlights for Wills included:

  • Five-time NL All-Star (1961–1963, 1965, 1966)
  • Two-time Gold Glove Winner (1961-1962)
  • NL Triples Leader (1962)
  • Four-time NL Singles Leader (1961-1962, 1965, 1967)
  • Helping spark the Dodgers to four pennants and three world championships in eight years. The 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins as Wills’ best as he collected 11 hits for a .367 average in seven games and a .387 OBP.

Wills was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates after the 1966 season, went to the Montreal Expos in their inaugural season of 1969, and returned to the Dodgers that June. Before retiring after the 1972 season, Wills was named MVP for the 1971 Dodgers as he batted .281 with a .323 OBP and led his team to a blistering September stretch drive that brought LA from eight games back early in the month to within one game of the first place Giants. The Dodgers finished second place and one game out, their best showing since winning the NL Pennant in 1966 and a preview of the Babes of Summer 1970s era in which the Dodgers were pennant winners in 1974, 1977, and 1978.

Persistence, patience, and determination

Wills signed with the Dodgers in 1951 and spent almost nine years in the minor leagues. The knock on him was that he wasn’t enough of a hitter to be a serious prospect. However Wills honed his base running skills and remained a persistent if not visible prospect until he made a major breakthrough in 1958– under manager Bobby Bragan he learned to switch hit. When Wills learned to hit left-handed and batted .313 for Spokane, the Dodgers finally called him up. Wills differentiated himself with the dynamic combination of switch hitting and voracious base running that would soon be the Dodgers most potent offensive weapon as they dominated the National League from 1959 to 1966.

With the Dodgers not only making the geographic transition from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, but gradually replacing the Boys of Summer homerun hitting/slugger style to a pitching-running-defense mode, Wills eased into both the shortstop position and later the team captaincy anchored by Pee Wee Reese since 1940. Wills joined the Dodgers mid-season in 1959 as a 26-year-old rookie and helped Los Angeles capture the National League pennant. Wills only stole seven bases in 83 games but was the offensive spark for the Dodgers winning the World Series in six games over the “Go-Go” White Sox of Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox. With the simultaneous emergence of the greatest righty/lefty pitching duo in baseball history– Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax– it was the beginning of a mini-dynasty and a revolution.

Revolutionizing the game with “Hot Wheels” base running

Having celebrated his 27th birthday with a World Series title and now regarded as a 10-year overnight success (a humorous reference to his lengthy minor league apprenticeship), Wills was soon off and running, literally. He stole 50 bases in 1960 to win his first stolen base crown. Then there was 1962. Not only was it the first time a player topped 100 stolen bases in a season, it vastly exceeded the steals totals for each team. In the 1994 book Baseball: An Illustrated History, it is noted that during the first seven years of the 1950s, not one of the 16 MLB teams had stolen 100 bases. Just five years later, Maury Wills’ 104 stolen base mark would signify the shift toward what Roger Angell would write of as a combination of tap-ball and hot-wheels base running.

With the constant threat of base stealing, Wills was able to upset the timing of opposing pitchers and alter the stance of opposing position players by putting them into a defensive posture. Maury Allen wrote of the Dodgers offense as Wills getting on, stealing second base, and then scoring on a hit by Tommy Davis, Ron Fairly, or Willie Davis. With the Dodgers record-setting Drysdale/Koufax pitching tandem, ably supported by very competent third and fourth starters like Claude Osteen, Johnny Podres and Don Sutton and stalwart relief pitching from the likes of Ron Perranoski and Jim Brewer, this low-scoring but consistent offensive threat enabled Los Angeles to defeat superior hitting teams such as the Giants, Reds, and Pirates.

Another way Wills altered the game is that he showed how a team could consistently manufacture runs with this high pressure, aggressive base stealing approach. During 1959-1966, the Dodgers scored 5412 runs in 1280 games, an average of 4.23 runs per game. During the 1965-66 pennant winning seasons, Dodgers averaged less than 3.75 runs per game. But given the manner in which LA registered its run scoring totals by moving the men around the bases through hit-and-run, sacrifice and steals, the Dodgers record-setting pitching staff coupled with efficient fielding was able to consistently play at this level throughout the course of a 162-game season.

As a result, in this same period, the Dodgers finished first four times (1959, ’63, ’65-66) and second twice (1961-62.) Moreover, the Dodgers had a winning record each season except 1964 and averaged 91 wins per year. The same cannot be said for its hard-hitting NL rivals, despite those teams having superior fire power. In other words, a weak-hitting Dodger team led by Wills that could consistently manufacture runs was a very formidable opponent because of the deadly combination of aggressive base running, efficient fielding, and superior pitching.

Wills’ contributions are best reflected in how his stolen bases contributed to three World Series Championships in eight seasons for Los Angeles. But his legacy goes beyond that. Wills’ style of play is now a standard weapon in the arsenal of most contending MLB teams. When he burst on the scene in 1959 and then led the NL in stolen bases for six consecutive years, Wills stole better than any man since Ty Cobb. Eventually, with other teams- notably the Cardinals acquiring Lou Brock in 1964- treating the stolen base not as an artifact from the distant past but a perennially relevant and powerful offensive weapon, the excitement of the game was now heightened.

The hypnotic effect: the story behind the story

In today’s saturated sports media world, the personal struggles of a professional baseball player being revealed to the public is no longer news. But in the 1960s such revelations were uncommon. Wills made big news with the revelation he used hypnosis to help cope with the psychological and physical struggles of stardom.

Following his ’62 MVP season, Wills gave a lengthy interview to Melvin Durslag of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner where he explained how hypnosis enabled him to overcome physical discomfort and anxiety associated with holding an athletic championship. The irony, of course, is that Wills achieved his MVP status by hypnotizing the opposition with his constant threat of base stealing. Now he was revealing how hypnosis was helping him as a baseball player. But it also helped lead to Wills’ shocking banishment from the Dodgers following the 1966 season.

The Intimate Casebook of a Hypnotist, by Arthur Ellen with Dean Jennings, published in 1968, provides a most insightful perspective on this aspect of Wills’ career. Wills consulted with Ellen on a recurring basis during the 1960s, and while Durslag wrote in his article of how much Wills valued his hypnosis sessions with Ellen, it is the hypnotist’s casebook that provides a rare look at what took place and its consequences. Prior to Ellen’s book, The Artful Dodgers by Tom Meany revealed the Dodger team captain to be a person with a very high energy level and keyed up to play every game as if it would be his last. Perhaps this can be attributed to Wills having to play in minor league obscurity for almost 10 years before reaching the majors.

In Meany’s book, Wills explained he had to follow a routine each day that often included playing his banjo to stay relaxed during the season. In this same book, and citing the Durslag interview and subsequent article, Wills is a strong adherent regarding the benefits he received from hypnosis. This was as far the hypnosis story went until Ellen’s book was published two years later.

Ellen’s book revealed that Wills thought he would be unable to sustain his high level of play following his MVP season in 1962 due to the physical pain, hemorrhages, scars, and bruises on his legs resulting from the often violent slides along the base paths. Ellen noted that beneath Will’s cool façade was a turbulent spirit that was often tense and insecure when it came to his athletic achievements. Through a series of hypnotic sleep sessions Ellen was able to help Wills overcome his anxiety (and overprotective attitude) concerning his legs so that he walked away from treatment with a springy step and a smile replacing the tight lips and jaw muscles which had been straining when he first arrived.

Wills continued to perform at a high level in the ensuing years but once again sought out Ellen following the 1966 season. The Dodgers had just lost the World Series in four straight games to the Baltimore Orioles and were in the midst of an exhibition tour of Japan. Since Wills was team captain and a major box office draw, Dodger management insisted he make the trip. The 1966 pennant race was one of the most intense in baseball history, with the Dodgers, Giants, and Pirates all clustered together for six months. It was not until the final day of the regular season that the Dodgers emerged as pennant winners, but it came at a high price.

Both the pitching staff and everyday players such as Wills were exhausted by season’s end. After just three games Wills bolted from the team while in Japan and showed up several days later in Honolulu where he joined his musical friend, Don Ho and entertained night club audiences with his banjo playing. When he arrived home in Los Angeles Wills had three more hypnosis sessions with Ellen where he expressed fear that his playing days were numbered due to the physical pain and scarring on his legs as well as mental exhaustion from the rigorous season-long pennant race. Again, Ellen was able to reset Wills back on the right track and the Dodger captain was ready to resume his baseball career.

However, a nasty surprise was soon in store as Dodger management traded Wills to the Pittsburgh Pirates as punishment for his defection during the Dodgers Japanese exhibition tour. The loss of face for a legendary franchise steeped in tradition like the Dodgers, occurring in a nation where courtesy, good manners and a fierce devotion to baseball are accorded the highest priority was too much for Dodger ownership and management to accept.

It’s worth noting the two seasons where Wills posted his highest batting averages occurred in 1963 and 1967 following his intense hypnosis sessions. Both years, Wills batted .302, the only times he topped .300, in fact. Was there a direct connection? It is axiomatic that hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult of all athletic feats. Since Ellen observed that after both occasions in 1962 and 1966, Wills was noticeably more relaxed and confident it is not unreasonable to infer that these benefits carried over, and thus made a positive difference at the plate in the ensuing seasons of 1963 and 1967.

Defining an era and farewell

Maury Wills helped define the glory days of the 1959-1966 Dodgers. His return from exile helped making the Dodgers a contender once more. Earlier it was noted that Wills was named team MVP for his inspiring leadership and on-field play during the 1971 season. In the years following the retirement of Sandy Koufax after the 1966 season– save for Don Drysdale’s record-setting six straight shutouts in 1968 and Willie Davis’ 31-game hitting streak in 1969– Dodger fan attendance had declined along with the team’s fortunes. The renaissance of 1971 resulted in the highest Dodger home attendance since its last pennant in 1966. Although his stolen base totals were well below his ’60s numbers, Wills’ presence once again upset the timing of opponents and served notice the Dodgers were again a contender.

The Dodger resurgence in 1971 was featured in a September 27 Sports Illustrated cover story “Dodgers and Giants at War Again – General Maury Wills” with the Dodger team captain leading his troops against their longtime rival. The article highlighted a series of games between the arch rivals that were eerily similar to their storied battles from both the 1950s and 1960s. Appropriately, this was the last hurrah for Wills, as he and fellow ’60s infield mates Jim Lefebvre and Wes Parker retired after the 1972 season. This paved the way for the eventual Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey infield that would be the nucleus for the Babes of Summer teams of the 1970s. But even in the swan song season of 1972, there was still an opportunity for one more moment of glory for the Dodger team captain who had revolutionized the game.

On Saturday evening June 10, 1972 the Dodgers in their 51st game of the season defeated the defending World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates 2-1 in the second contest of a 3-game series at Chavez Ravine. Longtime Dodger fans
such as yours truly who was listening on his transistor radio, along with 38,937 in attendance, witnessed Maury Wills leading LA into a first place tie with late-game heroics that were right out of the glory days of the 1960s. Here is the account of those late innings.

In the bottom of the 8th inning with the game tied 1-1, Wills led off with a single to left field. Bill Buckner, batting second, sacrificed Wills to second base with a bunt groundout. The next batter, Manny Mota, singled to center field with Wills running all the way and coming in to score the go-ahead run. With the next batter, Frank Robinson, grounding into an inning-ending double play, it was left to the stalwart Dodger pitchers to hold this lead. In a moment seemingly out of the glorious past, starter Claude Osteen and reliever Jim Brewe held the Pirates to 1-hit in the top of the 9th inning and preserved the 2-1 victory for LA.

I recall listening on the AM dial that night. Following the Dodger post-game wrap-up, in the ensuing radio show featuring famed LA radio host Paul Compton, he opened his program with signature “cool jazz” music declaring it was an evening to celebrate the return to glory for “the captain” Maury Wills as he led the Dodgers back into first place with the same late-game heroics that had made the former NL MVP a longtime fan favorite. By this time, Bill Russell was being eased into the shortstop position so this appearance by Wills was truly his valedictory performance in a Dodger uniform. But what a fitting way to close out a career, in front of a home crowd to boot.

About the author

George A. Haloulakos, MBA, CFA – Teacher, Author and Entrepreneur. Chartered Financial Analyst [CFA] and consultant: DBA Spartan Research and Consulting specializing in finance, strategy and new business ventures. Award-winning university instructor. Published author of DOLLAR$ AND SENSE: A Workbook on the ABCs of Investments. Hobbyist – aviation, baseball, spaceflight and science fiction. Lifetime member of Strathmore’s Who’s Who Registry of Business Leaders. Member of ordained clergy in Orthodox Church in America (rank/title of Reverend Protodeacon).
E-mail: Haloulakos@gmail.com.

Bibliography

The Artful Dodgers, Tom Meany. Grosset & Dunlap, 1966.
Baseball: An Illustrated History, Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns. Alfred Knopf, 1994.
Baseball’s 100: A Personal Ranking of the Best Players in Baseball History, Maury Allen. A & W Publishers, 1981.
Baseball-Reference.com
Franklin Big League Baseball Electronic Encyclopedia, 1993.
John M. Deegan, Baseball Enthusiast and Collector.
The Intimate Casebook of a Hypnotist, Arthur Ellen with Dean Jennings. New American Library, 1968.
The Los Angeles Dodgers: An Illustrated History, Richard Whittingham. Harper & Row, 1982.
Once a Bum, Always a Dodger: My Life in Baseball From Brooklyn to Los Angeles, Don Drysdale with Bob Verdi. St. Martin’s Press, 1990.
On the Run: The Never Dull and Often Shocking Life of Maury Wills, Maury Wills and Mike Celzic. Carroll & Graf, 1992.
Personal Collection of George A. Haloulakos, Baseball Hobbyist. CDs, DVDs, scrapbook of news and magazine articles, baseball cards, game programs and books.
Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy, Jane Leavy. Harper Collins, 2000.
“Dodgers and Giants at War Again – General Maury Wills,” Sports Illustrated, September 27, 1971.
The Summer Game, Roger Angell. Bison, 1972.
Vassilios E. Haloulakos – Scientist, Engineer and Professor. Personal library and recollections from his face-to-face meeting with hypnotist Arthur Ellen in 1969.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Jeff Bagwell

Claim to fame: This isn’t the first Hall of Fame column about Bagwell, far from it, though I’ve noticed something in reading the other pieces. They generally fall into two camps. The first dismiss Bagwell as a possible steroid user. There is no evidence for this. Bagwell never failed a PED test, never showed up in a government report or steroid dealer’s deposition, never got mentioned in a book by Jose Canseco. Still, there are some who say the hulking frame of the Houston Astros first baseman and the fact he starred during the Steroid Era are enough to merit suspicion and keep him out of the Hall of Fame. I loathe these articles, but I’m not big on their counterparts, pieces by fellow baseball bloggers and others that essentially augur for automatic enshrinement. Today’s column is about taking a different tact.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Bagwell received 56 percent of the vote this year in his second try with the Baseball Writers Association of America. It’s a promising showing. Bagwell has 13 more years of eligibility with the writers, and aside from Gil Hodges, Jack Morris, and Lee Smith, no player who’s ever received more than 50 percent of the vote isn’t in Cooperstown now. But the glut of steroid-connected players who will arrive on the ballot over the next several years could be a game changer for Bagwell and others. And at this point, the potential for voting-related chaos looks great.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I have a confession, a reason for why I’m writing this column late. I haven’t wanted to write it. Don’t get me wrong, on numbers alone, Bagwell is a Hall of Famer, easily. Besides hitting 449 home runs, Bagwell very nearly pulled off a .300/.400/.500 lifetime split for batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage, a rare feat. His lifetime Wins Above Replacement of 79.9 is among the best for non-enshrined, eligible players, and it was better than any player on the writers ballot this year. He was even a fairly likable guy and thrived in the Astrodome, which helped sabotage the Hall of Fame bids of Jim Wynn, Cesar Cedeno, and most every other position player who spent a good chunk of his career there.

My problem is I have this gnawing feeling Bagwell might have used. Do I have any evidence whatsoever? Of course not, and I admit I have this suspicion about most players from the past 20 years. Should steroids keep Bagwell or any other man out of the Hall of Fame? Probably not. Perhaps the majority of the players in Bagwell’s era were on some kind of performance enhancer, and there was nothing in the rules for the majority of Bagwell’s career saying he couldn’t. But I wish both sides in the Bagwell debate could work more constructively besides firing off slam dunk yes or no columns. Stuff’s about to get crazy with voting in the next year, as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and others become eligible, and we can’t seem to do much besides stick on our respective moral high horses. This needs to change.

I’d like to see some kind of consensus reached about what to do with the glut of steroid users (both confirmed and rumored) who will become eligible for Cooperstown. It isn’t fair to judge players on differing standards. It also isn’t fair to simply leave the decision to the writers to fumble for individually or pass off to the Veterans Committee. The task facing voters isn’t an easy one, and what transpires over the next few years could shape Cooperstown for decades to come. It’d be a shame if this decision is made flippantly or not at all. Bagwell’s just the tip of the iceberg.

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

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie ReynoldsBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon Mattingly,Don NewcombeGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiLarry Walker,Manny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete Browning,Phil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony Oliva, Vince ColemanWill Clark

To the BBWAA: Focus on the Great, Not the Very Good

Editor’s note: One thing that I love about this blog is that we have a range of viewpoints among the writers here. I personally differ from Joe Guzzardi on how many players should be the Hall of Fame (he’s an exclusionist, I’ve become more welcoming in the last couple years), but I’m glad to share his views.

_______________

Barry Larkin is in the Hall of Fame. As opposed to last year’s choice of Bert Blyleven, I guess I’m sort of okay with Larkin, the winner of nine Silver Slugger awards, named to 14 All Star Games and one of the outstanding shortstops of his era. I’d have been okay if Larkin were passed over, too.

Luckily for Larkin, he’s untainted by steroid charges, an issue that will confront the Baseball Writers Association of America next year.

According to an analysis by the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner, 33 players over the next five ballots (including Larkin) could make what he calls “a realistic case” for their induction.  As Kepner describes it, “They may not have a winning argument, but they belong in the conversation.’

Kepner broke his 33 players into four categories:
      1) Virtual locks, barring evidence of steroid use: Larkin (2012); Craig Biggio (2013); Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas (2014); Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz (2015); Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman (2016).
     2) Possible, barring evidence of steroid use: Curt Schilling (2013); Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina (2014).
     3) Doubtful, based on playing career, voting track record or both: Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker and Bernie Williams.
     4) Left out because of performance-enhancing drugs: based on suspicion, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza; based on admission, Mark McGwire; based on evidence, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa; based on admission/evidence/playing career, Juan Gonzalez and Andy Pettitte.

According to Kepner’s projections, by 2016 ten new Hall of Famers will have been elected. Seven reached a significant round number: 300 victories for Glavine, Johnson and Maddux; 3,000 hits for Biggio; 500 home runs for Thomas; 600 home runs for Griffey; 600 saves for Hoffman. Larkin was a most valuable player; Smoltz won a Cy Young Award, and Pedro Martinez won three.

But on my ballot, only Glavine, Johnson, Maddux, Biggio, Thomas Griffey and Martinez would get votes. A single Cy Young season (Smoltz) is more an argument for being passed over than being inducted.
As for Hoffman, the standard for earning a save is so artificial and watered down I can’t see ever putting any relief pitcher (including Mariano Rivera!) in the Hall of Fame. In his 18 year career, Hoffman averaged 60 innings pitched per season (out of about 1,500 team innings played) —simply too insignificant a contribution to merit Hall of Fame status.

As for Kepner’s “possible,” “doubtful,” and “left out” categories, I wouldn’t vote for any of them.

In previous blogs, I’ve noted that most of the ESPN talking heads like Peter Gammons, Buster Olney and Jayson Stark advocate for the steroids’ crowd.


When you hear these guys talk, it’s as if they are obligated to vote for multiple candidates each year. Attention: There’s no such requirement.

Here’s Jayson Stark’s 2012 ballot which he posted on the Internet:

Larkin, Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Jack Morris, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy and what he describes as the “Steroid Guys” Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro.

Even if Palmeiro never used steroids, it would be a joke and an insult to the truly great players to include him in a Hall that has Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and Stan Musial.

I’m in Bob Costas’ camp: The Hall of Fame is “too big” and should be reserved for the absolutely best, not just the very good. My January 2011 blog on that subject, including Costas’ opinion, is here.

If I had a Hall of Fame vote

It seems lately many members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have been tormented and undecided as to which player should receive their Hall of Fame vote. This not only applies to this year’s ballot but especially in 2013 when the eligible list will be flooded with steroid-aided stars. Should these writers forgive and forget, or wait a few years until those stars are merely a distant memory? Should they refuse to vote for these players at all? Should a player whose career position was mainly that of a DH be eligible? Should a player be voted in because a precedent was set in the years before? Has the idea that only the greatest players should qualify for the Hall ever been followed to the letter?

All good and valid questions and with no clear eligibility standards other than perhaps 500 homeruns, 300 wins or 3,000 strikeouts, no clear answers.

Until now that is.

I have always believed that in giving a player immortality, only the best and most upstanding should be honored. But these players must be held to a higher standard than the rest of society. That should go with the territory. That should be part of the payment and understood without explanation. Transgressions should not be forgiven, ignored or excused. If claiming innocence and later, after much questioning and crocodile tears, all is forgiven with a shrug of the shoulders, then Pete Rose should be a charter member of the Hall.

Players who excel at only one or two phases of the game should be passed over. Very good shouldn’t be good enough. Doing so only cheapens the accomplishments of the elite players. It could turn into the farce that is Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Are you really comparing Cary Grant to some actor in a lousy television sitcom? Do we want the Hall of Fame to become as insignificant as putting your hand and foot prints in cement has become? Do we want some disco queen in the rock and roll Hall of Fame or a Joan Jett?

There is no reason to elect a player every year. Not voting for any of the names on the ballot will not negate your voting eligibility. There is also, in most cases, no reason to elect a player after many years of being eligible. His stats didn’t improve after retirement. Not being in the Hall doesn’t require a player to forfeit some or all of the money made during his career. Being an ex major leaguer is noteworthy and special all on its own.

A player who was virtually a full time DH shouldn’t get voted in either. Baseball pre DH was full of players who could hit but couldn’t run or field. They were good at only one of the five tools and regardless of how well they could hit, were not complete players.

A player should not be elected because of who was voted in before him. Ozzie Smith is a member therefore a precedence and an excuse to elect every great fielding shortstop in baseball history has been set. I’m not singling out Smith; he was an electrifying defensive player… I think he was very good, just not elite and not great at any other part of the game.

There are no hard and fast voting rules for election into the Hall of Fame. It would seem so but at the risk of sounding naïve to the ways to the world, I have come up with answers to those very questions.

While the players in the Hall who shouldn’t be can’t be removed, let’s start honoring the Ruths, Aarons, and DiMaggios with elite selections and let’s not dishonor those by voting in the likes of Sosa, Palmeiro, or other players who excelled at only one phase.

Any player/Any era: Pedro Guerrero

Editor’s note: I’m pleased to present a first-ever guest edition of “Any player/Any era” by Albert Lang, one of the voters and writers for my project last month on the 50 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame.

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What he did: Over the holidays, my fiancé’s sister gave me some unopened baseball card packs from the late 80s/early 90s. I got a shocking amount of Pedro Guerrero cards, including the 1990 Donruss MVP one. I sort of remembered Guerrero but certainly not as an MVP type guy. So, obviously, I had to cruise to Baseball Reference, and, my god, Guerrero slugged: .300/.370/.480 for his career with 215 HRs in 6,115 plate appearances with the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals.

Despite hitting well (.305/.355/.470) in his first four tastes (658 plate appearances) of the majors with the Dodgers, the team would not give him a full time role until 1982, when he was 26. Of course, it probably helped that he slugged five RBIs in game five of the 1981 World Series. Guerrero took the opportunity and ran with it, hitting .304/.378/.536 with 32 HRs, 27 doubles and 22 steals in ‘82. In so doing, he became the first Dodger with 30 HRs/20 SBs in a season. He became the second player to do so the following season.

While those years were all well and good, 1985 would be his East of Eden: .320/.422/.577, leading the league in OBP and slugging. During one stretch, he reached base 14 consecutive times, two plate appearances short of the record set by Ted Williams. Unfortunately, he ruptured a tendon during Spring Training in 1986. He did have some successful seasons thereafter, but he was never quite the dominant force he was with the Dodgers. Still Guerrero was a filthy hitter, a player Bill James called “the best hitter God has made in a long time.”

Era he might have thrived in: We’re sticking him in the American League in 1925. This was a pretty decent hitter’s era, one that would emphasize Guerrero’s ability to get on base. More importantly, he would fit in perfectly on the ’25 Philadelphia Athletics. He could slide in for Jim Poole at first base and greatly improve an already potent line-up. In addition, he could take at bats from the somewhat light-hitting outfielder Bing Miller. Of course, he’d be pushed out of the way once the Athletics decided to use Jimmie Foxx. Until then, Guerrero would be something.

Why: To quote Bill James in referencing Guerrero trying to play the infield: “Guerrero’s long war with third base.” Guerrero simply could not play third base. In 1983, he made 30 errors, tied for the 24th most by a third baseman in a season since 1946 (numbers via the SABR Baseball List and Record Book).

Without the burden of trying to play third, Guerrero would be free to do what he did best: mash. If you use his neutralized batting, Guerrero would be an absolute force from his age 25 through 29 seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics. At 29, he would hit .358/.462/.650 and his career line would be .333/.405/.529 with 242 HRs.

Had Guerrero played in the 20s, his numbers would look a lot more astounding. That said, even in his era, Guerrero compiled an .850 OPS, the 52nd best in MLB history by a right-handed batter (min. 5,000 PA) (numbers again from the SABR Baseball List and Record Book).

Also, hopefully playing in simpler times would help the simpleton Guerrero. In 1999, Guerrero was arrested while trying to buy 33 pounds of cocaine. He was eventually acquitted of drug conspiracy charges after his lawyer argued his low IQ made it impossible for him to grasp that he had agreed to a drug deal. In addition, later in ’99, O.J. Simpson called 9-1-1 to report his girlfriend missing. During the call he said she had been using drugs with Guerrero.

The 1920s, a simpler, better time for Pedro Guerrero.

You can follow Albert on twitter: https://twitter.com/h2h_corner

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: Al SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News RockiesBarry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob WatsonBobby VeachCarl Mays, Cesar CedenoCharles Victory FaustChris von der AheDenny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleEddie LopatElmer FlickFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJack MorrisJackie RobinsonJim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film)Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertOllie CarnegiePaul DerringerPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey HendersonRoberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam ThompsonSandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays