Monthly Archives: February 2012

Puerto Rico Goes to Cuba, Wins 1953 Caribbean World Series

When Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman began his major league career on May 6,1953 by pitching a no-hitter for the St. Louis Browns against the Philadelphia A’s,  the baseball world was shocked.

But for those who followed Holloman the previous winter in the Puerto Rican League, his success was hardly surprising.

Pitching for the Santurce Crabfishermen, Holloman led the league with a 15-5 record. In the traditional playoff involving the first and second place finishers, the Crabs took on its long time antagonist the San Juan Senators in the best of seven. Holloman pitched a complete 13-inning game to best the Senators, 7-5, and wrap up the series, 4-2. Future New York Giants catcher Valmy Thomas tripled in the winning runs with two on.

During game five, among the many fans were Rachael and Jackie Robinson who were visiting San Juan at the time. Robinson watched his teammate Brooklyn Dodgers’ teammate Junior Gilliam as the Crabs trounced the Senators 15-5. Negro League slugging star Bob Thurman’s grand slam home run and three hits provided the winning runs. The all time Puerto Rican League home run record belongs to Thurman with 117.

The Crabs Puerto Rican League victory assured the team a place in the Caribbean World Series in Havana. The four member countries and the teams representing them were Puerto Rico (Santurce), Cuba (Havana), Panama (Chesterfield) and Venezuela (Caracas). At the time, the Havana Reds were called the “Yankees of Cuba” because of its outstanding roster that included Sandy Amaros, Camilo Pascual, Lou Klein and Bob Usher. Reds’ manager Mike Gonzales said his squad was “at least” the equivalent to AAA.

Holloman dominated as the Crabs swept the double round robin series 6-0. He won the second and sixth games by scores of 7-4 and 9-2. Other Crabs’ pitchers who contributed were future Major Leaguers Ruben Gomez and Cot Deal. The Crabs twice topped Havana en route to becoming the first two-time Caribbean Series winner.

When Holloman reported in the spring, the unconvinced Browns sent him to Syracuse before calling him up in May. Holloman’s time in the bigs was short. After his no-hitter, Holloman struggled. Then, after he mopped up in the second game of a July 19 double header against the Washington Senators and gave up six earned runs in 1.2 innings, a frustrated Bill Veeck sold “Bobo” to the International League’s Toronto Blue Jays.

When the season ended, Holloman returned to Santurce but pitched poorly and compiled a 0-2 record.

With his career over, Holloman returned to Georgia to drive trucks just as he had done in his pre-baseball days. Holloman battled alcoholism for years before giving up drinking in in 1972. Sobriety helped Holloman enjoy his racetrack, golf and stock market passions. In 1987, Holloman died of a sudden heart attack in Athens.

Vote: The BPP All-Time Dream Project

Edit 2.28.12, 10:40 a.m. PST: 25 responses and counting. If you haven’t voted, please email me at thewomack@gmail.com for a ballot or go here.

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They’re the greatest baseball debates in history, timeless arguments that continue unabated and still capture public imagination. It’s the age-old question of who’s better: Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle? Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron? Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio? And the list goes on.

Now, those debates are coming to Baseball: Past and Present.

It is my pleasure to kick off a new project here. We’re calling this one, “The BPP All-Time Dream Project.” It’s pretty simple, really. Imagine a one-off sandlot game and choose any nine players from baseball history: eight position players and one pitcher. There are no designated hitters, relief pitchers, or bench players to be recruited here, no manager to enlist, no 25-man roster to be filled. This is simply about choosing nine players to win a game.

I’ll be providing a check-able ballot with 20 players at each position, which I’ll start sending out this evening via Google Docs Forms, but as always, write-ins are welcomed and encouraged. Any player is eligible, and to keep things interesting, I’ll refrain from campaigning for any players. As always, anyone who’s interested is welcome to participate, and I’ll provide a link in my results post to any baseball blogger who takes part.

Ballots are due by 9 p.m. PST, Tuesday, March 27, the day before the regular season begins. I’ll publish the results on April 15, Jackie Robinson Day, as good a day as any in my book to celebrate the best of baseball history. I’m allowing that much time in between because each of the nine players will be illustrated by Sarah Wiener, known to the Twitter crowd @for_the_sarah, aspiring illustrator extraordinaire. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback between now and April 15.

It may sound as though I’m creating some tough choices for people. The center field portion of the ballot alone will feature Mays, Mantle, and DiMaggio as well as Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Ken Griffey Jr., among others. I have a confession: This is exactly what I’m aiming for.

Mike Krukow: The Polish Prince

Having a fiancé who is Polish must have led me to Mike Krukow’s 1987 Topps card. The backside of the card lists a nickname. I think it’s pretty cool. “The Polish Prince” sounds crafty and it’s nice to get one’s heritage in a nickname, complete with alliteration.

Mike Krukow played catcher in high school and was even drafted by the California Angels in 1970 as a backstop. But he went to college instead at Cal Poly, playing there just before Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. During Krukow’s time at Poly, he transitioned to a starter and set the school’s record for career ERA.

He was then drafted by the Cubs and pitched well for them from 1976-1981 (oddly enough his FIP was always better than his ERA – maybe he was the first Ricky Nolasco?).

He made a brief and successful stop in Philadelphia in 1982, throwing 208 innings with a 3.12 ERA and 3.12 FIP. He was worth 4.4 WAR.

The Phillies, though, traded him in a move that brought them Joe Morgan, and Krukow was on his way to San Francisco, basically back home. He’d stay there for the rest of his life. He pitched solidly from 1983-1988, until injuries got to him. During that span, he never pitched less than 184 innings and consistently had ERAs and FIPs in the 3.00s. In his only play-off game, he threw a complete game against the Cardinals in 1987.

Krukow seems to be the quintessential 1980s hurler. To go all Jack Morris argumentative on you: from 1980-1989, Krukow had the 42nd most Fangraphs WAR and tied for the 36th most wins. In fact, he reminds me of a few contemporaries (and fellow Flip Siders): Ed Whitson, Mark Gubicza (here and here) and Mike Boddicker (here), seriously, check out their career side-by-sides here.

They each won between 124 and 134 games, pitched between 2,123 and 2,240 innings and had ERA’s between 3.79 and 3.96. Gubicza is the star of the group, but Krukow was the flamethrower.

Of course, the baseball world remembers and loves Krukow a bit more than the other three, as fans adore him for his transition to the broadcast booth. He has been a mainstay of radio and television for San Francisco Giants games and has a number of catch phrases. When the Giants advertise jerseys and whatnot, Krukow closes the ad by saying “I wanna get that!” three times.

As someone who grew up with Rex Barney at Orioles games and Jon Miller doing broadcasts, fans know when they are blessed to have someone of that talent and magnitude. I also know how fleeting those moments in time can be. Enjoy Krukow baseball fans, he’s one of the best.

Oh, one more thing, Krukow also provided commentary for the video game MVP Baseball from 2003-2005. The Polish Prince is simply cool.

Any player/Any era: Gary Carter

What he did: It took Gary Carter six tries to be voted into the Hall of Fame. This shouldn’t come as any surprise, given Carter’s stats or the history of the museum. Catchers rarely have an easy time getting into Cooperstown, and Carter would have had slim odds shilling for a plaque at any position with a .262 lifetime batting average, 2,092 hits, and 324 home runs. He’s a player who never hit .300 or walked 100 times in a season, and he topped 30 homers just twice and 100 RBI four times. He also declined precipitously, failing to post an OPS+ of 100 in a full season after age 32, and it’s a wonder he’s in the Hall and so many players whose careers followed similar trajectories are not. And, with all this being said, I’ll add something else about Carter: I think he’s underrated.

In some ways, Carter led a charmed life, playing 19 years in the majors, making the National League All Star team 11 of those years, and establishing himself as one of the nice guys of his sport. But he was unlucky, too, from sustaining a knee injury that nearly ended his career before it started to being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer that ultimately took his life on February 16 at 57. And he played in an era that did his numbers few favors, with his lifetime OPS+ of 115 and WAR of 66.3 hinting at what might have been in a different time. In a more favorable offensive period in baseball history, Carter might have hit somewhere close to .300 for his career and perhaps staked yet a greater hold in the sport’s lore.

Era he might have thrived in: It isn’t difficult to take any hitter and project them with gaudy numbers in the 1930s, the most offensively explosive time in baseball history this side of the Steroid Era or the 1890s (never forget a time where a team can hit .350 and finish fourth.) But other things work in Carter’s favor in the ’30s as well, from defensive skills that would’ve set him apart from his fellow backstops, to proven ability to play well in New York City, to an affable personality that would’ve made him a clubhouse asset in any era, really. The thought here is that playing for the Dodgers in the 1930s, Carter might have been the star Brooklyn so lacked while their crosstown rivals dominated.

Why: The New York Yankees were the team of the ’30s, winning five of 10 World Series in the decade, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio all have starring turns for the Bronx Bombers in this time. The Giants weren’t bad either, winning one World Series and appearing in another. The Dodgers, for their part, finished in the second division six of 10 ten years in the ’30s and managed to get three runners on one base one memorable afternoon. So futile were the Dodgers that Giants manager Bill Terry quipped, “Is Brooklyn still in the league?” It enraged Dodger fans, but he had a point.

Part of the problem stemmed from lack of star power. For a franchise that’s boasted icons like the Boys of Summer in the ’40s and ’50s and Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in the ’60s, the Dodgers’ Depression Era rosters were largely devoid of big names or talent. Enter Carter, who might have been baseball’s best catcher in a time when Ernie Lombardi, Bill Dickey, and Mickey Cochrane were starring. As a right-handed hitter, Carter would have been ideally suited for Ebbets Field, a bandbox with a short left field porch. I also am curious how Carter might have done playing for Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra’s manager for the majority of his time in pinstripes and a couple decades before that, the skipper for three seasons in Brooklyn. My guess is that whatever Berra learned from Stengel might have helped Carter, too.

Depending on when Carter plays in Brooklyn, he could potentially put up huge numbers. Playing on the ’36 Dodgers, Stengel’s last year in town, Carter’s 1982 season comes out to a modest 30 home runs, 106 RBI, and a .306 batting average with a .940 OPS. On the Dodgers in 1930 however, before the National League changed its ball and eased scoring as Steven Goldman of Baseball Prospectus told me, that ’82 season would be good for 33 home runs, 125 RBI, and a .333 batting average with a 1.004 OPS. Whatever the case, Carter would surely see a boost.

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 DrysdaleDoug GlanvilleEddie LopatElmer FlickFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGene TenaceGeorge W. Bush (as commissioner)George CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jack MorrisJackie Robinson, Jim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh GibsonJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film), Mark FidrychMatty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertOllie CarnegiePaul DerringerPedro GuerreroPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey HendersonRoberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam ThompsonSandy Koufax Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTony PhillipsTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays

Minnie Minoso: “What’s a Holdout?”

When Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane signed Cuban prospect Yoenis Cespedes to a $36 million, four year contract, I immediately thought back to a simpler time.

During the 1952 Christmas season, the famous Chicago White Sox G.M. Frank “The Trader” Lane set off for Cuba with four blank contracts in his brief case. Lane intended to sign two of his major league roster players, Saturnino Orestes “Minnie” Minoso and pitcher Mike Fornieles. Lane also hoped to sew up two role players, third sacker (and bench warmer) Hector Rodriguez and relief pitcher Luis “Witto” Aloma. The quartet played winter ball in the Cuban League.

Lane secured contracts only from Rodriguez and Aloma. Upon his return to Chicago, Lane speculated that Minoso may be a hold out. But when he was questioned about that possibility, Minoso asked:

Hold out? What in the world is that? I am not a hold out whatever it is. I like to play ball but I want my money. The club offered me only $3,000 raise over what I got in 1952 and I think I am entitled to more.

Fornieles, recently traded from the Washington Senators in exchange for Chuck Stobbs, took the same position. After Lane reportedly offered $5,000, Fornieles said:

After I pay my taxes and spend a lot in Chicago living like a big leaguer, I will have only $500 a month left. I don’t think that is big league pay.

Poor timing victimized Lane. At the time of his Cuba visit, the Marianao teammates were dominating the league. Minoso was second in batting, hitting an impressive .360. Fornieles’ record stood at a tidy 7-3.

The week after Lane left, the Cuban League named Minoso and Fornieles Players of the Year; Minoso won the top veteran award; Forneieles, best rookie.

Lane and his players eventually settled their disputes. In 1953, Fornieles posted a respectable 8-7, 3.59 ERA record; Minoso added 32 points to his 1952 average to end the season at .313, fourth highest in the American League, and knocked in 104.

In 2003 Minoso, then 78-years-old, made a pinch hit appearance for the Independent Northern League St. Paul Saints and drew a walk. With his at bat, Minoso became the first ever seven- decade professional baseball player. Minoso broke in with the Cleveland Indians in 1949.

During his career Minoso, the White Sox first black player, never earned more than $40,000. Fornieles died in 1998 in St. Petersburg, Florida; Minoso, a 10 time All Star, lives in the Chicago area.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Sammy Sosa

Claim to fame: I seem to be repeating variations of the following phrase ad nauseam, but here goes again. In about nine months, the Baseball Writers Association of America will begin voting on the most controversial Hall of Fame ballot in recent memory. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will inspire volumes of copy as writers publicly rationalize why they are or are not voting for them or anyone else thought to have used steroids. Holdovers like Jack Morris and Tim Raines will have impassioned cases made on their behalves by supporters, and Craig Biggio might be the only player enshrined by acclimation thanks to his 3,000 hits. It’s a bad year to be anyone besides Biggio on the upcoming ballot, something of a dog pile. It’s a bad year to be Sammy Sosa.

With all the noise surrounding Bonds, Clemens, and everyone else who will appear on this ballot, I suspect Sosa may get the quietest consideration from the writers a 600-home-run hitter has ever received. Revelations in 2009 by the New York Times that Sosa flunked a steroid test in 2003 wouldn’t help him even with a weaker ballot. On this one, though, I’m guessing he’ll get 10 or 20 percent of the vote his first time out. It wouldn’t stun me if Sosa fails to receive 5 percent of the vote and falls off the ballot. While I’m guessing the same 20 percent of the electorate that’s steadfastly voted for Mark McGwire his six years on the ballot might also be willing to support his partner in the 1998 chase for the home run record, all bets could be off with the upcoming vote.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Reports out of Oakland say soon-to-be-40-year-old Manny Ramirez has inked a minor league deal, and I’ll admit I wonder what the effect would have been for Sosa if he’d done likewise in 2008 or ’09. Certainly, he didn’t look terrible at the plate his last year in the show, 2007, hitting 21 home runs and driving in 92 runs with an OPS+ of 101 (though his WAR was admittedly lousy, 0.4.) If Sosa had found work thereafter, it’d be another year at least until he was eligible for the writers ballot, and he might debut to more favorable circumstances; I suspect the landscape will change drastically the longer worthy candidates get the shaft from the BBWAA over steroids. As it stands, Sosa has a maximum of 15 years on the ballot and needs 75 percent of the vote for a plaque.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I’ve undergone a huge shift in my thinking. Maybe even a year ago, I was staunchly against the Hall of Fame honoring anyone connected to steroids. In general, I used to be more of a small Hall person, wanting the museum to be reserved for only the most stellar of candidates. But the more I’ve written about Cooperstown, the more inclusive I’ve become about the place, the more I’ve wanted it to be something that captures all of baseball’s history. And the more I’ve thought and talked with others about steroids, the more I’ve come to think they were simply a part of baseball, no different than all-white play in the 1940s and before, amphetamines in the 1960s, cocaine in the 1980s. Every generation of baseball has its sordid details, and to deny them is to deny a part of the game.

Let me be clear: I don’t like steroids, and I hope they never return to the game. I don’t like that a generation of players was faced with the decision of using to keep up. I think it’s reprehensible Major League Baseball allowed this to happen, and it will be tragic the first time an ex-big leaguer dies before his time because he used. Still, though, for 10, maybe 15 years, steroids and gargantuan power numbers were a fundamental part of the game. And for better or worse, Sosa was at the core of this. He slugged as well as very few other members of his generation did, averaging better than 60 home runs a season from 1998 through 2001, and for better or worse, he highlighted his era. I’m guessing Sosa will be a largely forgotten man on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. It will be a pity the longer this remains.

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 JonesClosersCraig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon Mattingly,Don Newcombe, Dwight EvansGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff BagwellJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry WalkerManny 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

The Worst of the Best: High Pockets Kelly

Editor’s note: Please welcome the latest from Alex Putterman.

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He hit fewer career home runs than Earl Torgeson, collected fewer hits than Jermaine Dye, and slugged worse than Jay Gibbons while reaching base less often than Ron LeFlore. He posted a lifetime OPS+ equal to that of Lee Mazzilli and Rob Deer and was worth fewer Wins Above Replacement than Ossie Bluege, Bing Miller, Chief Zimmer, and a legion of other guys with funny names you’ve probably never heard of. His top similarity score on Baseball-Reference is Bob Watson, followed closely by Frank McCormick.

Yet George “High Pockets” Kelly is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, inducted by the Veterans Committee in 1973. He was praised as a brilliant defensive first baseman, the finest Frankie Frisch had ever seen, and considered particularly apt at driving in runs, but his résumé certainly doesn’t suggest him Cooperstown-worthy. Most who saw Kelly play didn’t seem to think so either; he received a single vote his first time on the BBWAA ballot in 1947, and in ensuing years would only once collect more than two (five in 1960).

Nor do statistics support Kelly’s case. He had neither tremendous peak nor longevity, playing in 1,622 games over 16 seasons and only once cracking a .900 OPS or 130 OPS+. He had no MVP-caliber season and never led the National League in any of the three slash line categories (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage).

In fact, Bill James, in his 2001 book The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, called High Pockets “the worst player in the Hall of Fame,” and I happen to agree, at least as far as hitters are concerned (starting pitcher Rube Marquard gives Kelly a run for his money.)

Only four Hall of Fame position players have worse career WAR totals than Kelly’s 23.6. And while Tommy McCarthy, Ray Schalk, Rick Ferrell and Lloyd Waner certainly don’t belong anywhere near Cooperstown, their candidacies are all slightly more defensible than Kelly’s.

McCarthy played before entirely accurate statistical records were kept, so we’re evaluating him using potentially incomplete data. Plus, the outfielder is regarded as a pioneer of the hit-and-run play and an overall excellent base-runner. Waner hit .317 lifetime (albeit while almost never walking and playing during an offensively-dominant era), and at least his lackluster offensive production came at a high-value position, center-field, as opposed to first base, where Kelly played. Schalk and Ferrell were both well-regarded catchers, providing some value at the scarcest of positions.

So I can’t argue with James that Kelly was the worst of the “best.” But how did such a pedestrian player achieve the game’s highest honor?

In Kelly’s election to the Hall of Fame, it was Frisch’s opinion that mattered most. Frisch, Kelly’s former New York Giants teammate, was, at the time of the first baseman’s induction, chairman of the Veterans Committee (another of those former-Giants, Bill Terry, was also on the committee), and cronyism has understandably been assumed as the explanation for the induction of Kelly and many other former-Frisch field-mates. Essentially, High Pockets reached the Hall because he had friends in the right place. It’s an accusation Frisch is not around to answer to (he died in March, 1973, before Kelly was even officially inducted), but it seems as if the former second baseman is responsible for Kelly’s place in Cooperstown. In other words, he is responsible for the worst position player in the Hall of Fame.

Any player/Any era: Mark Fidrych

What he did: I’m a few days late on this column, so forgive me if seems passé. I’ve been wanting to write about Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin, who recently came out of nowhere to lead New York on a seven-game winning streak. Athletes emerge from obscurity periodically to star, whether it’s sixth-round draft pick Tom Brady filling in for an injured Drew Bledsoe and leading the New England Patriots to Super Bowl glory or Florence Griffith-Joyner quitting a job at a bank to become a gold medal sprinter. And it’s happened before in baseball. I’m reminded of Hideo Nomo, who was a star in Japan but a little-known player stateside before coming to the majors in 1995 and propelling the Los Angeles Dodgers to the top of the National League West. There have been others like him in baseball, too.

Lin has been all the buzz the last couple of weeks online, and a few days ago, Marcos Breton of the Sacramento Bee Tweeted about him. Marcos (@marcosbreton) wrote:

I’m dating myself, but I don’t think I’ve seen anything in sports like Jeremy Lin since Mark “the Bird” Fidrych back in the 1970s #Linsanity

It’s an interesting idea, with Breton going on to note that Fidrych had similarly humble beginnings, capitalizing on a non-roster invitation to spring training in 1976 to go 19-9 and start in the All Star game. Joe Guzzardi wrote here in 2010 of seeing Fidrych pitch that year, not long after the rookie captured the public’s imagination in a 5-1 win over the Yankees on ABC’s Monday Night Baseball. There are some key differences between Fidrych and Lin, most notably that Fidrych’s presence didn’t change much for the Tigers who were in a lull between having World Series-caliber teams in the late ’60s and 1980s. Still, it got me thinking about Fidrych, another player who would have benefited in an era better suited to his talents.

Era he might have thrived in: Fidrych’s numbers read like a cautionary tale against throwing young hurlers into the fray too early, with more than half of his career wins, innings, and strikeouts coming in that dazzling ’76 season. He tore his rotator cuff the following year, and while the injury wouldn’t be diagnosed until 1985, he won just 10 games his remaining four seasons. Fidrych belongs in the baseball history books with Denny McLain, Smoky Joe Wood, and other pitchers who were essentially done by 25. Wood later reinvented himself as an outfielder, and while the jury’s out on if Fidrych could have done likewise, I’d see him having a longer career debuting with a club more welcoming to young hurlers. The Atlanta Braves of the 1990s and San Francisco Giants of the past several years come to mind.

Why: It’s all too common for teams to push talented newcomers too hard, and I suppose this makes sense in that clubs have to do their best to win with the players they have. Still, I only wonder how long it will be before Lin wears down playing 38 minutes a night. Baseball’s past is littered with pitchers who perhaps wouldn’t have crashed so soon with better handling early on, from past subject and ’60s phenom Wally Bunker to Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in recent years. Occasionally, guys like Bob Feller buck the trend and forge Hall of Fame careers, but these cases are few and far between. More often, young hurlers get used up before their time.

I’d like to think baseball is becoming more responsible in this regard, with writers like Tom Verducci cautioning against increasing the workloads of pitchers under the age of 25 more than 30 innings from year-to-year. And certain clubs, like the aforementioned Braves and Giants have been bastions for young hurlers, with former Atlanta stars Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz looking destined for Cooperstown and current Giant rotation anchors Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain each having a reasonable shot to be enshrined. It’s a credit in part, I think, to good coaching and to these pitchers being on teams where they weren’t the only options. Fidrych might have benefited from either of these things or from pitching today when he’d have better medical care and less of a chance to throw 250 innings his rookie season.

As it stands, Fidrych exists in baseball lore as a curiosity, a feather-haired goof who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with his Sesame Street doppelganger Big Bird. Here’s hoping Lin finds more lasting success.

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 DrysdaleDoug GlanvilleEddie LopatElmer FlickFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGene TenaceGeorge W. Bush (as commissioner)George CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jack MorrisJackie Robinson, Jim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh GibsonJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film)Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertOllie CarnegiePaul DerringerPedro GuerreroPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey HendersonRoberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam ThompsonSandy Koufax Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel Brothers, Tony PhillipsTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays

Do the worst of the best players make the best leaders?

When you think Branch Rickey, you think innovator. He broke the color barrier and pretty much created the framework for the modern MiLB farm system. But, before all that, he signed a pro contract in 1903.

He played 82 games in the minors that year, he hit .257. However he was a catcher and it was the early 1900s so that wasn’t like kissing your sister bad. He did worse in 1904 and 1905, but did get three plate appearances in the majors with the St. Louis Browns in ’05. He went hitless with two K’s.

Rickey showed promise the following year, batting .284/.345/.393 in 223 plate appearances. He was then sold to the New York Highlanders and the wheels fell off. He batted just .182/.253/.234 and exhibited perhaps the worst catching defense in MLB history. He was Jesus Montero without the bat. In fact, he once allowed 13 successful stolen bases in a game, a record to this day.

He was out of baseball soon after, but became a front office executive of the Browns in 1913. He signed George Sisler. And the rest is history.

There seems to be a link (or at least the belief of a link) between failing on baseball’s biggest stage and eventually becoming one of the best managers, pitching coaches, GMs or owners. But is that the case?

Joe McCarthy managed for 24 seasons, won nearly 62 percent of the games he managed and seven World Series. While he did a lot of damage with the wrecking crew known as the 1930s Bronx Bombers, he had impressive winning percentages with the Cubs (.579 in 770 games) and Red Sox (.606 in 369 games) and was the first manager to win a pennant in both leagues. McCarthy had a much longer minor league career than Rickey; however it was by no means better. With 15 seasons in the minors and 5,839 at bats, he mustered just 32 HRs. He batted .261 with a .334 slugging percentage. The only time he looked good was his age-26 season, when he repeated the year at Wilkes-Barre: he batted .325 and hit six HRs (the most he ever hit in a minor league season). McCarthy, a no-hit second baseman, grew up idolizing Connie Mack – which makes a lot of sense.

Charlie Comiskey managed for 12 seasons, finished with a .608 winning percentage, four pennants and one World Series. As a first baseman, Comiskey made James Loney look like Frank Thomas. Comiskey played for 13 seasons for the St. Louis Browns. As a player, Comiskey finished with a .264/.293/.337 line and he was worth 11 WAR (although more than half of that comes from defense) (Baseball Reference). Heck, maybe Comiskey should have pitched: he had a 0.73 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 12.1 MLB innings. Like Rickey, he was also an innovator: Comiskey is credited as being the first player to position himself behind the first base bag and thereby cover more field – he was all over total zone rating.

Frank Selee managed for 16 seasons, won nearly 60 percent of his games and five pennants. Selee, a “balding little man with a modest demeanor and a formidable mustache that gave his face a melancholy case,” never played minor or major league baseball. He did manage Frank Chance who took over managing the Cubs when Selee was too ill to do so.
Frank Chance managed 11 seasons, won 59 percent of his games, two World Series and four pennants. Known as Husk or the Peerless Leader, Chance was the end point of Tinkers to Evers. He was also a no-power first basemen who could get on base (.296/.394/.394). He hit 20 HRs over his 1,288 games played. Chance accumulated 49.5 WAR and was a stud from 1904-1908: .302/.397/.404, with 14 of his 20 HRs. Chance, good player, great manager.

Billy Southworth managed for 13 seasons, won nearly 60 percent of his games, two World Series and four pennants. Southworth was also a fine hitter, batting .297/.359/.415 over 13 seasons. He was worth 20.3 WAR and finished in the top 20 for MVP once during his career. Southworth, a solid regular for seven of his seasons, was the first person in MLB history to win a World Series as a player and a manager.

John McGraw managed for 33 seasons, won 58 percent of his games, three World Series and 10 pennants. He played from 1891-1906 and was player manager from 1899-1906. McGraw, known as Little Napoleon, led the league in OBP three times, scored 140+ runs three times and finished with a .334/.466/.410 line. He was worth 49.3 WAR. It’s entirely possible that McGraw is responsible for the quantity of umpires on a diamond. Like other names on this list, McGraw was an innovator, likely being responsible for the quantity of umpires on the field. When McGraw played, there was only one umpire and whenever the ump was distracted, McGraw would trip or otherwise impede base runners.

Al Lopez managed for 17 seasons, won 58 percent of his games and two pennants. Lopez, who managed the Indians for the 1950s and later the White Sox, played from 1928-1947. His playing career, lasting 19 seasons, wasn’t overly interesting: .261/.326/.337 with 13.5 WAR. That said, Lopez, a catcher, set the record for career games at the position until Gary Carter broke it in 1990. Lopez died four days after the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, the franchise’s first championship since Lopez led them to the World Series 88 years before. Lopez was a colorful character and solid catcher for nearly 20 years and a great manager for even longer.

Earl Weaver managed for 17 years, won 58 percent of his games, one World Series and four pennants. Weaver is, perhaps, my favorite baseball entity. His book Weaver On Strategy is one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever read. His career is probably the reason for this column as I know he struggled mightily in the minors (.267/.269/.344) across 14 seasons. However, Weaver knew how to manage a baseball team and farm system. While he couldn’t play well, his mind and understanding of the game was up there with anyone. He was also similar to Al Lopez: neither found an umpire they couldn’t get to throw them out of a game. Man, I miss Earl Weaver.

Cap Anson managed for 21 seasons (nearly two-thirds of that time he was player-manager), won 58 percent of his games and five pennants. Anson is, of course, one of the greatest players of all time: .334/.394/.447 with nearly 100 WAR. He won the batting title twice, lead the league in OBP four times and generally dominated the 1870s, 80s and 90s. Between Anson’s career and managerial record, he could be the most complete baseball man of all time!

Connie Mack, or Cornelius McGillicuddy, Sr., managed for 53 seasons, won 48 percent of his games, five World Series and nine pennants. Mack, the Tall Tactician, played 11 seasons in the majors predominantly at catcher, finishing with a .244/.305/.300 line and 4.5 WAR. Mack had nearly 60 more walks than he did extra base hits. He also had 15 more K’s than he did extra base hits. Another innovator, Mack would simulate the sound of a foul tip when he was catching. At the time, a caught foul tip was automatically an out. In 1891, the rule was changed that only a caught foul tip on a third strike signaled an out.

Casey Stengel managed for 25 seasons, won 51 percent of his games, seven World Series and 10 pennants. Stengel, the Old Perfessor, wasn’t a bad hitter either. He played predominantly right-field and finished with a .284/.356/.410 line and OPS+ of 119. He was worth 18.7 WAR for his career. Stengel was a slightly above average player for about 10 of his 14 seasons – not bad.

Most of those are old time managers; however recent successful managers like Sparky Anderson, Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, Tommy Lasorda, Terry Francona, Joe Girardi and Davey Johnson didn’t have overly distinguished playing careers. In addition, pitching coaches like Dave Duncan (career .214/.279/.357 hitter) and Leo Mazzone (had a 1.40 WHIP and 0.93 K:BB rate across 10 minor league seasons) weren’t successful players. That said, Joe Torre had a near Hall of Fame playing career.

In short, good players and bad players turned out to be great managers, GMs (Billy Beane), pitching coaches and others. However, in recent time, the game seems to have trended away from stars becoming managers. Perhaps if Ryne Sandberg ever gets a shot or if Mark McGwire continues as a hitting coach we’ll know more.

It does appear that the decline of the player-manager has changed the pool of managerial candidates. With the better players playing longer into their careers, they lose out. Nowadays, players like Terry Francona (who last played in the Bigs at 31) are earning valuable experience 5-10 years before stars retire. In addition, we can always blame Pete Rose.
Lastly, perhaps there is a bit of perception bias. The majority of people fail at baseball, so, necessarily, there are far more bad players looking for managerial jobs than good players.

The A’s Gamble on Yoenis Cespedes

The Oakland Athletics stunned the baseball world earlier this week when the team signed the untried Yoennis Cespedes to a 4-year, $36 million contract. Cespedes’ only experience against major league pitching came during the World Baseball Classic where he hit .428 in 24 at bats. In Cuba last year, Cespedes hit 33 home runs in 90 games. Who knows how that translates into a realistic ability to hit in the big time?

The WBC and the Cuban League aren’t the major leagues. While the scouts go crazy over Cespedes and what they view as his can’t miss future, my own thinking is tempered by the opinions of two former big league stars, Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Steve Blass.

Schmidt says that there’s no jump harder to make in professional sports than the move up from AAA to the majors. Blass adds that it’s one thing to “make” the big league roster but a different thing altogether to “perform” once you get there. Some note that neither the WBC or the Cuban League approach AAA talent-wise.

Cespedes will begin his Athletics’ career in the minors. There he might run into another international signing, a former “can’t miss” prospect who looks like—well, he may miss. In 2008, the As signed 6’7” 16-year-old Dominican Michael Ynoa for $4.25 million. General manager Billy Beane predicted that Ynoa’s blazing fastball would dominate hitters for years to come. Ynoa pitched nine innings of rookie ball in 2010 before blowing out his arm and undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Another multimillion dollar Cuban defector, Aroldis Chapman, is still in his formative stages. In parts of two seasons for the Cincinnati Reds, Chapman has shown improvement.

Last summer, Chapman threw a 105 mile fastball that Reds’ fans are still talking about

But here’s what pitching great Sal Maglie said in Sports Illustrated in 1958 about pitchers who plan to make their livings with fastballs:

With nothing but a real good fastball, a pitcher can be a winner in high school and college, on the sandlots and even in the minor leagues. But no one—not even a Herb Score or a Bob Feller  —can consistently throw the ball past major league hitters. The guys you run into here are just too good for that.

Maybe without his injury Ynoa would be dominant by now. Cespedes might end up in the Hall of Fame. Long-term investments in any young player are risky. But the odds shift in the general manager’s favor if that player has come up through familiar venues familiar, e.g. college campuses and organized American minor leagues.

If you read my earlier, politically incorrect post about Yu Darvish and the extravagant contract that the Texas Rangers bestowed on him, you won’t be surprised to learn that I view the Cespedes deal with extreme skepticism. I’d like to see more American kids get shots.

As a result of lifting the visa cap for professional athletes, the minor leagues are currently made up of nearly 50 percent foreign-born players.

The new, lax visa regulations add another layer of difficulty for American teens hoping to make the big leagues. Instead of signing hundreds of U.S. high school or college amateurs, historically the business model for stocking minor-league rosters, today teams draft fewer U.S. kids and instead ink more so-called non-draft free agents, the majority young Latin Americans. One reason: the marginal players are cheaper.

Oneri Fleita, the Chicago Cubs minor league player development director explained:

There is no longer a limit on work visas. So, yeah, you might see more foreign players getting an opportunity.

Globalism is good for owners, the players signed to the multimillion dollar deals and for fans if their teams’ players make it big. For the American kid hoping to make his mark, globalism makes his already difficult task nearly impossible.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Dwight Evans

Editor’s note: Please welcome Patrick Languzzi to the site. Patrick’s been patiently waiting for a couple of months to offer something on Dwight Evans, who in December finished tenth in BPP’s annual project on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. Patrick waited long enough that his piece today is apropos, given Bill James’ open letter last week pushing Dwight Evans for Cooperstown.
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Claim to Fame:  Selected to the ’80s All-Decade Team, Evans finished as a three-time All Star and two-time Silver Slugger. He won eight Gold Gloves in 10 seasons, (including five straight ’81-’85), and was selected by Major League Baseball as having one of the nine greatest outfield arms. Evans is the only player in history to win eight Gold Gloves while also leading his league for a decade in home runs and all of MLB in extra base hits and runs created. He’s one of just 13 players to have at least 2,400 hits, 1,450 runs, 1,375 walks, 1,375 RBI, 480 doubles and 385 home runs. Of those 13, Evans is the only player previously eligible not to have been enshrined in Cooperstown.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Evans fell off the BBWAA ballot in 1999. He’ll be eligible again in 2013 via the Veterans Committee and its Expansion Era ballot.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame?  Without question.

Evans played in the shadow of Hall of Fame teammates Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski and Wade Boggs. Despite being considered the greatest right fielder of his era, Evans still went underrated, and his offensive skills were often overshadowed by his own defensive exploits. Bill James once wrote, “Dwight Evans is also one of the most underrated players in baseball history, because he did many things well, rather than having one central skill that people could use to explain his excellence.”

Evans led all of baseball during the 1980s in runs created with 1,067, ahead of Hall of Famers Ricky Henderson, Eddie Murray, Robin Yount and Mike Schmidt.  He was first in extra base hits with 605 ahead of Yount, Murray, Schmidt and Brett, hit more home runs with 256 than any other American League player, and was the only player to hit 20 or more in nine consecutive seasons ’81-89.

Evans led right fielders during the ’80s in HR, RBI, walks, runs, runs created, extra base hits, times on base, runs produced, OPS and doubles, as well as four top 10 finishes in the MVP voting.

Since the turn of the century, all players to lead their respective decade in extra base hits through 1980 have been inducted in Cooperstown.

Extra Base Hit Leaders by Decade

1900s – Honus Wagner

1910s – Tris Speaker

1920s – Babe Ruth

1930s – Jimmie Foxx

1940s – Stan Musial

1950s – Stan Musial

1960s – Hank Aaron

1970s – Reggie Jackson

1980s – Dwight Evans


David Laurila of FanGraphs writes:

Evans has the same OPS+ as Rickey Henderson [127], higher one than Ernie Banks, Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Paul Molitor and Kirby Puckett. Evans’ WAR [61.8] is higher than Andre Dawson, Harmon Killebrew, Willie Stargell, Billy Williams and Dave Winfield.


Evans is in good company, comparing favorably to Kaline, Perez and Williams, as well as Dawson and Rice. Here’s a chart that breaks it down:

Player Name AVG OBP SLG OPS Runs Hits HR RBI BB
Dwight Evans .272 .370 .470 840 1470 2446 385 1384 1391
Al Kaline .297 .376 .480 856 1622 3007 399 1583 1277
Tony Perez .279 .341 .463 804 1272 2732 379 1652 925
Billy Williams .290 .361 .492 853 1410 2711 426 1475 1045
Andre Dawson .279 .323 .482 805 1373 2774 438 1591 589
Jim Rice .298 .352 .502 854 1249 2452 382 1451 670

For all Hall of Fame hitters, Evans averages higher in runs, hits, doubles, HR, RBI, base on balls, slugging and OPS.

For more information, check out the case I presented for Evans at a January 19 meeting of the Society for American Baseball Research. I’ll close here by saying there are other statistical arguments in Evans’ favor. In his era, he ranked in the top 10 for most major statistical categories for right-handed American League hitters. From 1970-1989, no right fielder in MLB won more Gold Gloves than Evans. In 14 World Series games (two series, ‘75, ‘86) Evans hit .300, 15 hits, three HR, 14 RBI, seven walks, seven runs, .397 OBP, .580 SLG, .977 OPS and 29 total bases.

Yastrzemski said it best:

Dewey was a great offensive player and one of the greatest right fielders to play the game; there’s no doubt in my mind that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

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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 JonesClosers, Craig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon Mattingly,Don NewcombeGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff BagwellJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry 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

A list of baseball research tools from John Thorn

I have a confession, one that I doubt makes me different than countless other baseball bloggers, but a confession nevertheless. Too often, what I call research for this site basically consists of me going to Baseball-Reference.com, Wikipedia, or the SABR BioProject. I combine this perhaps with references to a handful of great baseball books, the occasional interview, and a healthy dose of my opinions, assorted knowledge, and analysis, and most times, it equals a readable post. I get nice feedback for this site, but I also know I’ll need to go deeper in my research in order to write about baseball professionally. Right now, I feel a bit lazy in what I do here and that there’s not a whole lot to set my work apart.

Spurred on by these thoughts, I sent an email last week to official Major League Baseball historian and prolific baseball writer John Thorn. I’ve corresponded with Thorn for the past couple of years and even interviewed him by phone after he got the MLB historian position. Since he took that job in March 2011, Thorn’s been writing a baseball history blog, Our Game for MLB.com, and to anyone who hasn’t checked it out, I recommend it. I’m impressed by the amount of information Thorn packs into his posts, as rich in anecdotes of any baseball history site that I know. Wanting to know more about how he does it, I emailed Thorn, asking for whatever he could offer about his methodology and anything in general to point me in the right direction.

Thorn replied:

Well, Graham, you have to start with a few basic books of baseball history, including (ahem) Baseball in the Garden of Eden. See, for example: http://thebrowser.com/interviews/john-thorn-on-baseball?page=full

Seymour, Voigt, and Charlie Alexander are all good. Bill James’s Historical Abstract is entertaining but a curio unless you’ve read widely beforehand, IMHO.

Consider the newspaper archives at:

Google News
NY Times
Sporting News (available through SABR)
Sporting Life, Baseball Magazine (at la84.org)
California Historical Newspapers

and paid services such as:

newspaperarchive.com
genealogybank.com
ancestry.com
fold3.com

That’ll get you started!

I appreciate Thorn taking the time to share this list. I’d like to encourage anyone reading to add to it, both for my own edification and for any other would-be baseball researcher or writer who’d happen by this page. I know I still have a lot to learn, but with help, I also know I can get there.

Josh Gibson: The Black Babe Ruth?

His Hall of Fame plaque reads that Josh Gibson hit “almost 800 homeruns” in his career. There are several reports of Josh Gibson hitting home runs which traveled more than 500 feet. Walter Johnson said Gibson could, “hit the ball a mile.”  Satchel Paige simply called Gibson, “the greatest hitter who ever lived.”  “There were a hundred legends about him,” catching great Roy Campanella said. “Once you saw him play, you knew they were all true.”  Gibson once reportedly hit a ball over the fence in Pittsburgh which was not caught until the next day during his next game in Philadelphia.  He was called out in Pittsburgh for the previous day.

Gibson, the subject of a recent column by Graham Womack, was born December 21, 1911 in Buena Vista, Georgia. In 1923, the Gibson family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his father found employment at the Carnagie-Illinois Steel Company. Josh Gibson was preparing to become an electrician at a Pittsburgh school. Instead, he found work as an elevator operator at Gimbels department store and at 16 years old, played third base for the company team. Baseball was definitely a better profession than working in a mill, and Gibson knew that was what he wanted to be.

It wasn’t long before he caught the eye of Gus Greenlee who controlled the then still semi-pro Pittsburgh Crawfords. The Crawfords were the top semi-pro team in the Pittsburgh area. In 1930, Gibson was signed by Cum Posey, owner of the top Negro League team in Pittsburgh, the Homestead Grays. There were already whispers about the legendary power and ability of Gibson. On July 31, 1930, the legend was about to begin.

Negro League statistics are notoriously difficult to verify as when they were compiled at all, often did not differentiate between pro and amateur opponents nor did they take into consideration the various ballpark distances.  The Negro League season was usually no more than 60 games and more money was made barnstorming than against professional opponents in league games.

Still, Gibson compiled some staggering even if only partial accurate statistics. In 1931, Gibson hit .461 and slugged 75 home runs. He resigned with the Pittsburgh Crawfords who were now fully professional in 1933 and hit .467 with 55 home runs and he drove in 239. He was just getting warmed up. The following season he hit 69 homeruns. In 1937 he returned to the Homestead Grays and led them to nine Negro League titles.

Throughout his career, Gibson played winter baseball in Latin America adding to a legend that the major leagues and Branch Rickey, the man who broke the colour barrier by signing Jackie Robinson, couldn’t help but notice. There are stories that Rickey had considered signing Gibson and making him the first black player in the major leagues. Rickey was heard to remark that for sheer talent alone, Gibson would have been the logical choice.

But Gibson had demons that he could not shake. He seemed good natured and carefree on the surface but beneath the surface was a deeply troubled soul. He often drank heavily and had high blood pressure. He was plagued for many years by injuries suffered due to catching thousands of games and he suffered from terrible headaches. He suffered from blackouts. He would gain much weight only to quickly lose it. Doctors insist that Gibson undergo an operation to determine the cause of his health issues but he refused and continued to play.

He won the Negro League batting title in 1945 and 1946 but in January of 1947, just months before Jackie Robinson finally broke the color barrier, Josh Gibson passed away at the age of 35 after suffering a stroke.

Some teammates insist that Gibson really died of a broken heart. He was said to have been always bitter at never having the opportunity to play in the major leagues. It plagued and depressed him his entire career. When Jackie Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, Gibson felt his chance had come and gone. But his passing was really baseball’s loss.

Gibson was elected in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 and a plaque was erected in 1996 at Ammon Field in Pittsburgh and in 2009 he was honored with a statue inside the center field fence at Nationals Park, home of the current Washington Nationals.

For Gene Conley, Seasons Didn’t Matter

These are the darkest days. Football is over. I haven’t watched a NBA game from start to finish since I lived in New York when Willis Reed, Clyde Frazier and Bill Bradley led the Knicks to the 1969-1970 championship. As for hockey, I blame my disinterest on growing up in Los Angeles where the only ice I ever saw was in my freezer. But soon the sun will shine again, if not here in Pittsburgh then in Florida and Arizona where spring training will begin in a few days.

As I mulled over the seasonal transition from football to basketball to baseball, I suddenly remembered the man who handled it better than anyone: Gene Conley, the 6’8” giant who excelled on the diamond and the hardwood.

No one else played against Jackie Robinson, Frank Robinson and Oscar Robertson or played with Carl Yastrzemski during the summer, then teamed up Bob Cousy for the winter. Only Conley once had a locker next to Hank Aaron and Bill Russell during the same calendar year.

After playing baseball and basketball for Washington State University, Conley signed his first professional contract with the Boston Braves who called him up in 1952. Later that year, Boston Celtics’ guard Bill Sharman recommended Conley to Red Auerbach. During the 1952-53 NBA season, young Gene lived in the Lenox Hotel, one floor below Coach Auerbach.

The following year, the Braves paid Conley a $5,000 bonus to quit basketball. Conley rewarded the Braves with a 14 game winning season in 1954. During the July 1955 All Star Game, Conley struck out in order Al Kaline, Mickey Vernon and Al Rosen in the top of the 12th, then earned the win when Stan Musial homered in the bottom of the inning. In the second of two 1959 All Star Games, Conley fanned Ted Williams. In between Conley’s All Star appearances, he picked up NBA championship rings as Bill Russell’s backup with the 1958-1959 and 1959-60 Celtics.

But by 1958, Conley’s constant drinking and his inability to get along with Braves’ manager Fred Hanley led to his trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. Conley later referred to the swap “as the largest in baseball history” since 6’7” Frank Sullivan was the other part of the deal.

By 1960, the Phillies had grown tired of Conley’s dual career and offered him $20,000 to stop playing basketball. When the two parties couldn’t come to terms, the Phillies traded Conley to the Red Sox. At that point, Conley became the only man to play for three major professional teams in the same city.

In 1962, Conley recorded career highs in wins and innings, 15 and 242. But it was also the year of infamous Conley-Pumpsie Green incident. After a 13-3 shellacking on July 26 in Yankee Stadium when he gave up eight third inning runs, Conley began drinking heavily which started him down the road on the adventure for which he is most famous.

En route back to Boston, the team bus got stuck in traffic.  Conley and Green got off the bus allegedly to find a restroom but really to find a bar. When the two players returned the bus was gone. Left to their own devices, the pair resumed drinking before Green came to his senses and left Gene to return to Boston. Conley, however, continued his binge for several days and eventually in a condition described by those on the scene at the airport as “extremely inebriated” bought a ticket to Israel. Because he had no passport, the airline refused to let him board.

By 1964, Conley was out of baseball and basketball; in 1966, he took his last drink. Now 81, Conley now lives with his wife of more  than 60 years in New Hampshire.

Many consider Conley one of the greatest athletes in sports’ history. In all, Conley played 11 seasons in the Major Leagues, three of them with the Boston Red Sox (1961-63), one with the Boston Braves (1952), five with the Milwaukee Braves (1954-58) and two with the Philadelphia Phillies (1959).

Conley also played six NBA seasons, four of them with the Celtics (1953, 1959-61) and two more with the New York Knicks (1963-64).

Conley’s wife Katheryn detailed more wild stories in her husband’s biography of her husband published in 2004, One of a Kind.

Apparently, life with Gene was no picnic and was bearable only because of  his long road trips which, because Conley played two sports, lasted parts of ten months each year.

Any Player/Any Era: Tony Phillips

What he did: Tony Phillips had a long and relatively accomplished career (48.2 WAR in 18 seasons), yet doesn’t seem to be mentioned at all anymore. It seems Phillips was completely overshadowed by teammates (Jose Canseco, Cecil Fielder, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Travis Fryman, Jim Edmonds, Tim Salmon, Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, etc.)

However, Phillips deserved more than one lone MVP finish (16th in 1993) and should be remembered fondly. Phillips has the 23rd most hits by a switch hitter all time and his .374 OBP is 12th all time for a switch hitter (oddly, just .001 behind Pete Rose.)

Phillips could, flat out, get on base. He scored a cool 1,300 runs, the 10th most all time by a switch hitter and walked the 33rd most times in MLB history. His 1,319 walks are the fifth most by a switch hitter, behind only Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, Eddie Murray and Tim Raines. Phillips also led-off a game with a homer 30 times, the 10th most all time. If you think he was simply a compiler, you’re dead wrong. From 1989-1996, he was worth 34.2 WAR. During that stretch, he averaged a .276/.391/.405 line. I suppose the fact that he never lead the league in hits, hit a lot of HRs or stole a ton of bases kept him from getting his due. But, he did lead the league in runs in 1992 and walks twice, 1993 and 1996.

There wasn’t much finer than his 1993 campaign. He posted a .313/.443/.398 line. That OBP is tied for the ninth highest in a season by a switch hitter (min 3.1 PA per scheduled game, via SABR). His 132 walks were the third most ever in a season by a switch hitter.

Phillips was also the first player on the A’s to hit for the cycle, he went 5-5 with two runs and four RBIs against the Orioles in 1986 (poor Storm Davis.)

I’ll end with this: Phillips ended a game 109 times, tied for the 30th most ever with none other than Barry Bonds.

Era he might have thrived in: I wanted to put him in the late 1940s so he could go toe-to-toe with Pee Wee Reese and Eddie Yost, but I really think Tony Phillips would have thrived in the 1950s, specifically on the Cleveland Indians, two years after the club last won the World Series.

Why: The Indians were perennial bridesmaids in the 50s, finishing second six times and first once.

Would Phillips have pushed them over the top? Well, he would have hit .282/.394/.411 for the squad during that era. In addition, he could have slide nicely around the diamond to provide flexibility and a strong bat. In ’50, he could play second instead of Joe Gordon. The following year he could spell Ray Boone and Al Rosen, who had bad years. In ’52 and ‘53, he’d move Harry Simpson to the bench. In ‘54 and ’55, he could play right in favor of Dave Philley or short in favor of George Strickland.

He would post OBPs of .390 or higher in nine season during that era and his on-base abilities would fit the Cleveland line-up perfectly. Perhaps the Indians would have built a mini-dynasty and Phillips would be mentioned in the same breath with greats like Larry Doby, Al Rosen, Early Wynn, and others.

Follow Albert on twitter (@h2h_corner): 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.

Similarly underrated players: Bob WatsonCesar CedenoGene Tenace, Jack Clark, Nate Colbert.

Others in this series: Al SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News RockiesBarry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBobby VeachCarl MaysCharles Victory FaustChris von der AheDenny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleDoug GlanvilleEddie LopatElmer FlickFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge W. Bush (as commissioner)George CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack Morris, Jackie Robinson, Jim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny Frederick, Josh GibsonJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film)Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinOllie CarnegiePaul DerringerPedro GuerreroPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey HendersonRoberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam ThompsonSandy Koufax,  Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays

“Bullet Bob,” Billionaire

One of the things I most miss about baseball’s Golden Era is the blockbuster off season trade. Today when and if trades are made, they usually involve a marginal player swapped for an obscure minor leaguer. Fans have no particular attachment to the marginal guy and no clue about the minor leaguer. We’re robbed of any opportunity to get into a good, old fashioned hot stove league debate about the trade’s merits.

Even though it happened 57 years ago, greatest blockbuster of all time remains the 1954 trade between the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles.

In November, 1954, Orioles’ field and general manager Paul Richards, who recently joined the team from the Chicago White Sox, and his New York Yankees counterpart George Weiss put together the largest two-team swap in major league history. So huge was the transaction that the Orioles, who had just moved to Baltimore from St. Louis, and the Yankees announced the deal in two stages.

First, on November 18 the Orioles confirmed that the team had sent the “Second Coming of Bob Feller” Bullet Bob Turley, the season’s American League leader in strike outs, Don Larsen, 3-21 and starting shortstop Billy Hunter to the Yankees for pitchers Harry Byrd and Jim McDonald, outfielder Gene Woodling, shortstop Willie Miranda and minor league catchers Gus Triandos and Hal Smith who won the American Association’s batting champ with a .350 average.

Because of waiver and draft regulations the rest of the trade was not officially announced until December 2. Baltimore sent pitcher Mike Blyzka, catcher Darrell Johnson, first baseman Dick Kryhoski, and outfielders Ted del Guercio and Tim Fridley to the Yankees to complete their end of the deal. The Yankees threw in pitcher Bill Miller, second baseman Don Leppert and third baseman Kal Segrist. By the time the trade was completed, the seventeen player deal was—then and now— the largest in baseball history.

With the addition of Turley and Larsen, considered the sleeper in the deal, to the Yankees still effective but aging staff that included Whitey Ford and Eddie Lopat, Las Vegas installed the Bombers as odds on favorites to recapture the American League pennant the Cleveland Indians had stolen away the summer before. The wise guys were right; the Yankees edged the Indians by 3 games.

Turley’s Yankees’ career was marked by ups and downs. But the high point came in 1958 when went 21-7. His .750 winning percentage led the league and helped him win the Cy Young Award which, during the 1956-1966 era, only one pitcher from both leagues were so honored. Turley is included with Don Newcombe, Warren Spahn, Early Wynn, Vernon Law Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale and Dean Chance in that category.

In the 1958 World Series against the Milwaukee Braves, Turley dominated. After being knocked out in the first inning of the second game, Turley pitched a complete game shutout in the fifth and earned saves in the sixth and seventh games. His 6-2/3 inning relief appearance that ended game seven is a record. Turley was named the series Most Valuable Player.

In the following year, Turley hurt his arm and, after struggling for several seasons, in 1963 the Yankees sold him to the Los Angeles Angels. He finished the 1963 season with the Boston Red Sox and then became the team’s pitching coach in 1964.

Retirement has been very good to Bullet Bob. He joined an insurance firm, made millions and now lives on Marco Island, Fla. where his home overlooks the Gulf of Mexico. While Turley may not quite have amassed billions, his toughest decision these days is whether to fish for marlin or grouper off his 35-foot yacht that sleeps six.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Craig Biggio

Claim to fame: This fall, the Hall of Fame will get its deepest and most troubled class of eligible players in recent memory, with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa among others new to the writers ballot. With the Baseball Writers Association of America continuing to argue amongst itself over enshrining players who were connected to steroids, perhaps the only honoree next year will be former Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio. With 3,060 hits and no taint of performance enhancing drugs for his candidacy, Biggio’s induction looks like a safe bet for the first ballot, a slam dunk. Should it be?

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Having played his last game in 2007, Biggio will appear for the first time on the BBWAA ballot this fall and needs 75 percent of the vote for a plaque. He has a maximum of 15 tries with the writers.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? It used to be that 3,000 hits meant Cooperstown. Even now, 24 of 28 players who’ve reached the milestone are enshrined, with Biggio, Derek Jeter, Rafael Palmeiro, and Pete Rose the only ones left out. But something may have changed with Palmeiro, the first eligible player with north of 3,000 hits who’s fallen short with the writers, well short in fact. Just 12.6 percent of the BBWAA voted for Palmeiro this year, courtesy of his 2005 positive steroid test I’m guessing, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Biggio. If he comes up short in votes, it’ll be a sign 3,000 hits is no longer sacred.

Granted, even without 3,000 hits, Biggio would probably still be worthy. A lifetime .281 hitter with 291 home runs, he ranks as one of the best-slugging second basemen of all-time. His 66.2 WAR is about the baseline for enshrined players (though many have less), he ranks near or above for the Hall monitors on Baseball-Reference.com, and he compares favorably with other enshrined infielders. Biggio also had his best years in the pitcher-friendly Astrodome which makes him a little underrated to me, same as I’d say with Jeff Bagwell, Cesar Cedeno, or Jim Wynn. I even like the small things with Biggio, like the fact he started his career as a catcher and transitioned to other positions or that he once co-owned a ranch with Ken Caminiti, being a supportive teammate to a troubled man. Biggio sounds like a Hall of Famer in every sense.

That being said, it’ll be a shame if 3,000 hits is the main thing that gets Biggio in ultimately and is most remembered. I don’t think it’s the best thing about him, and he staggered his way to the achievement. His 20th and final season in 2007 where he attained the mark hitting .251 with an OPS+ of 71 and -1.5 WAR may be the worst work any everyday player has done in reaching an offensive milestone. Certainly, Biggio ranked among the most anemic hitters in the National League his last year, seeing as OPS+ is a measure of how a player’s offensive production compares to the rest of baseball and 100 a roughly average score. It’s also a hat tip to the other members of 3,000 Hit Club, 20 of 28 of whom had OPS+ of at least 100 the year they cleared the mark.

Considering the following list, which Biggio ranks dead last on:

Player OPS+ year they reached 3,000 hits Year
Ty Cobb 166  1921
Tris Speaker 166  1925
Hank Aaron 148  1970
Stan Musial 146  1958
Willie Mays 139  1970
Roberto Clemente 137  1972
Eddie Collins 135  1925
Cap Anson 134  1894
Eddie Murray 129  1995
Tony Gwynn 124  1999
Pete Rose 119  1978
Paul Molitor 116  1996
Paul Waner 109  1942
Rafael Palmeiro 108  2005
Carl Yastrzemski 108  1979
Al Kaline 107  1974
Dave Winfield 105  1993
George Brett 102  1992
Robin Yount 101  1992
Lou Brock 100  1979
Rod Carew 99  1985
Derek Jeter 97  2011
Rickey Henderson 95  2001
Cal Ripken 95  2000
Wade Boggs 94  1999
Honus Wagner 92  1914
Nap Lajoie 83  1914
Craig Biggio 71  2007


It’s not to take anything away from Biggio, who at the very least was well-thought of enough to keep getting trotted out in 2007 on his quest for 3,000. Whether it was intentional or not, the Astros did Biggio and his Hall of Fame candidacy a favor.

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 MorrisJeff BagwellJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen Caminiti, Kevin BrownLarry 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

First is sometimes worst with the baseball draft

Editor’s note: Please welcome the latest from Alex Putterman.

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Rick Monday was a solid Major League Baseball player, accumulating 32.7 lifetime WAR, about half of which while playing for the Athletics franchise that in 1965 made him the first pick in the history of the Major League Baseball amateur draft. While Monday will never be mistaken for a Hall of Famer, his career was certainly respectable, even by first overall pick standards. In fact, the success of the Monday selection would only be accentuated as the years passed and number one picks consistently failed to achieve their potential or even stick around the majors. The more time that passed, the more apparent the A’s fortune became. A superstar Monday was not, but almost any top pick for the next 20 years would have gleefully swapped careers.

We’ve written before about how the baseball draft has a noticeably worse success rate than that of football or basketball. And the trend may have been there from the start. It certainly wasn’t long until baseball learned that being picked first was not a harbinger of stardom. With the first overall pick in the second annual MLB draft, the New York Mets selected Steven Chilcott, and thus began a succession of failed top picks. Chilcott would never reach the Major Leagues, one of two ever number one picks, along with the Yankees’ Brien Taylor in 1991, to fall short of the Show (not counting Matt Bush, Tim Beckham, Bryce Harper and Gerrit Cole, all of whom are currently playing in MLB organizations.)

The next eight drafts would yield first picks ranging from disastrous (David Clyde, Danny Goodwin, Danny Goodwin again) to almost decent (Jeff Burroughs, Mike Ivie, Rom Blomberg sort of), an overall uninspiring group. Things got better from there, with five of the six first picks between 1976 and ’81 finishing their careers with at least 24 WAR (though the sixth, Al Chambers, was worth -0.7 WAR). In fact, Darryl Strawberry, number on pick in ’80, was, according to WAR, the most successful top pick selected prior to 1987, when Ken Griffey Jr. ushered in somewhat of a golden age for first picks.

Post-Griffey picking has been far from perfect, but several superstars have been taken number one overall in the past 25 years. Three years after Griffey came Chipper Jones and three years after that A-Rod. The 1999-2001 drafts saw a trifecta of MVP-caliber players taken at the top, with Josh Hamilton, Adrian Gonzalez and Joe Mauer selected first in successive years. Matt Anderson, Bryan Bullington, and others were certainly egregious busts, but a number of other number ones of the past 25 years (Andy Benes, Phil Nevin, Darin Erstad, and Pat Burrell among them) enjoyed successful careers. More recent drafts have produced Justin Upton, David Price and Stephen Strasburg, three top picks currently enjoying various levels of stardom, and the sky is considered the limit for 2010 number one Bryce Harper.

So what do these successes and failures of former number one draftees tell us about the draft process? Well, drafting first is undeniably somewhat of a crapshoot. Any time you can pick a shortstop and be unsure whether you’re getting Alex Rodriguez or Bill Almon you know there’s not much method to the madness. But there are some distinguishable patterns to selecting first. While several aforementioned position players have become stars after being taken number one, no first-pick pitcher has even achieved more than 30 WAR, nor has any pitcher taken with the second or third overall pick (well, at least until Josh Beckett and Justin Verlander reach that number this season), suggesting that highly-drafted hurlers are less likely than hitters to be worth the selection.

Not that picking at the head of the draft isn’t better than the alternatives. The 47 players selected first have combined for 799.2 WAR according to baseball-reference, significantly topping the 506.9 combined WAR of the 47 players selected second and well over twice the 286.7 WAR of all-time number five picks (in an interesting statistical anomaly, number five picks have been dramatically worse than number six picks, and number 10 picks have been more productive than number five, seven, eight, or nine picks).

So if your team finds itself picking first in an upcoming draft, consider the slot a legitimate silver lining of their futility, but be don’t be surprised to end up rooting for the next Shawn Abner, not the next Ken Griffey Jr.

Faster Than the Speed of Light: James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell

In honor of black history month, I thought I might turn my attention to a legendary Negro League star each Sunday in February and try and shed some light on some of their legendary skills and accomplishments. While many statistics from the Negro League are impossible to verify absolutely and several stories seem to be more fable than fact, interviews with teammates and some major leaguers who played exhibition games against players from the Negro League can shed some light on how skilled the stars of this league actually were.

I begin with perhaps the greatest baseball nickname of them all, Cool Papa Bell.  I begin with Cool Papa because the stories of his speed and skill are the stuff that legends are made.

He was born James Thomas Nichols on May 17, 1903 in Starkville, Mississippi.  He changed his last name to Bell although when and why is not known.  He was the fourth of seven children.  He lived with his widowed mother.  He grew up hungry and dirt poor.

When Bell was 19 years old, he joined up with the St. Louis Stars of the Negro League as a…. pitcher.  It took the Stars a couple of years until in 1924 they finally realized the hitting, speed and defensive skill of Bell would be better served in centerfield.  It was from that moment that he gained his reputation as the fastest man in the league, and probably the fastest man in the known universe.

The stories told about his speed have become legendary over the years. Only the cartoon characters of the Roadrunner and Speedy Gonzalez seem faster.  Perhaps even they could not have caught Cool Papa in his prime.

Stories of scoring from first base on a sacrifice bunt, scoring often from second base on a fly ball and hitting a double on a bunt play have been told and may even have a basis in fact.  I can recall a game in the eighties seeing then St. Louis Cardinal centre fielder Willie McGee score from second base on a fly ball to centre.  I have witnessed a runner scoring from first on a sacrifice bunt. I have witnessed a batter reaching second base on a bunt play.  In both cases, several throwing errors were needed in allowing a run. No mention of such errors helping Cool Papa Bell.

Bell was once recorded having fully rounded the bases in 12 seconds.  Bell once hit a screaming line drive through the middle, barely missing the pitcher and being hit in the buttocks by that same line drive while sliding into second base to complete the double.

The great Satchel Paige told a story that Bell could turn off the light in their room and be under the covers before the room went dark. It was later revealed that Paige had neglected to mention that the wiring in this particular light switch was faulty and would often have a delay of a few seconds..

I can recall another story, I can’t remember from where exactly, of a catcher being asked how to throw Bell out attempting to steal second base.  The catcher simply and straight faced that he would throw the ball to third and hope it was in time.

Bell reportedly once stole second and then third base on the same pitch.

Cool Papa played and coached for several Negro League and Mexican League teams during his career. He led the Homestead Grays to the Negro League title in 1942, 1943 and 1944.  He last played for the semi pro Detroit senators in 1946. In the minors he tutored legendary to be Ernie Banks, Elston Howard and Jackie Robinson. In 1974 Bell was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

James Thomas Bell died in St. Louis, Missouri at the age of 87.  In his honor, Dickson Street where he lived was renamed James “Cool Papa” Bell Avenue.

I wonder if there is a speed limit on James “Cool Papa” Bell Avenue.

Dick Stuart Helps Pirates Win 1960 World Series—By Sitting on the Bench

On SABR Day last week at the Forbes Field Chapter, our guest speaker was Dick Groat, Pirates’ shortstop on the 1960 World Champion’s captain and National League’s Most Valuable Player.

Groat told a captive audience about his All-American Duke University basketball career and his days in the NBA with the Ft. Wayne (now Detroit) Pistons. The Pistons were so eager to have Groat on its squad that it chartered a plane to take him back and forth from Pittsburgh to Ft. Wayne so he could play for both teams.

Inevitably, the conversation got around to that famous World Series when the Pirates upset the heavily favored New York Yankees.

Groat speculated that one of manager Danny Murtaugh’s most insightful moves was to bench Dick Stuart for the seventh game. Whether facing righty starters (Art Ditmar and Ralph Terry) or the lefty Whitey Ford, the right handed hitting Stuart batted clean up in five of the preceding six games.

In the seventh game, however, Murtaugh inserted Rocky Nelson at first possibly because Stuart was in a slump (.150, the worst average of any regular on either team) or a better fielder. In my last blog, I wrote about Stuart’s notoriously bad fielding.

Both reasons could be correct. In the bottom of the first inning, Nelson hit a two run homer off Bob Turley to stake the Buccos to a 2-0 lead.

But more importantly, as Groat remembered it, Nelson made a play in the top of the ninth inning that Stuart may not have.

Here are the details. The Yankees trailed 9-7, Gil McDougald was on third and Mickey Mantle, who had driven in Bobby Richardson to make it 9-8, was on first. Yogi Berra hit a smash down the right field line that Nelson grabbed. (Berra: “I hit the heck out of it.”) After Nelson stabbed Berra’s shot he stepped on first for the second out. But Nelson inexplicably didn’t throw home to nail McDougald who had taken off and scored the tying run. If Nelson had thrown to catcher Hal Smith in time, the game would have ended and the Pirates would have been winners.

All the while Mantle, sensing he would have been a dead duck, didn’t try to get to second. Instead, Mantle safely dove under Nelson’s tag. Score tied 9-9, Mantle on first, two outs.

The next batter, Bill Skowron, hit into an inning ending force play, Groat to Bill Mazeroski, that set the stage for Maz’s bottom of the ninth heroics.

What if Stuart and not Nelson had been the Pirates’ first baseman? If Berra’s grounder gets past Stuart, it ends up in the deepest corner of the cavernous Forbes Field. McDougald scores easily and maybe the fleet footed Mantle too (but maybe not with Roberto Clemente’s arm in right).

The worst case for the Yankees is Mantle on third, one out with Skowron at bat, slugging Johnny Blanchard on deck and Clete Boyer in the hole. The Yankees also had two capable pinch hitters on the bench, another home run threat Bob Cerv and Hector Lopez who hit .429 for the series. Whether the Yankees would have kept on scoring is speculation but its probable that the Pirates would have needed more than Maz’s one-run homer to win the seventh game.

Ironically, Stuart was in the on deck circle to bat for pitcher Harvey Haddix while Maz was at bat. As he watched Terry get ready to deliver his fateful pitch, Stuart thought that if he got to bat, he could have been the hero. What Stuart didn’t realize is that by staying on the bench, he had already played an important part in the Pirates’ unlikely World Series victory.