Monthly Archives: April 2012

Any player/Any era: Matt Nokes

What he did: Playing for the 1987 Detroit Tigers, Matt Nokes batted .289, hit 32 home runs and made the All-Star team en route to finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. His career lasted through the 1995 season, but he would never again enjoy the kind of productivity he experienced as a rookie. He finished his career with a slash line of .254/.308/.441 and 136 HR in just under 3000 plate appearances. The 3.1 WAR he earned in 1987 were nearly 40 percent of his career total.

Era he would thrive in: When reading “Any Player/Any Era” postings on this website, I often think, maybe this player was particularly well suited to his era; transporting him to another time and place might only harm his legacy. Nokes is one such player; perhaps 1987 and Detroit were the perfect time and place.

Why: Nokes was just about an average ball player. More than a decade and a half after his retirement, it’s easy to look back and come away with the impression that Nokes’ rookie season was a fluke. But another way of viewing it is that Nokes’ uncharacteristic first-year productivity might have given him opportunities that would not have come his way otherwise. If he had played in another time and place and made less of a splash as a rookie, he most likely would have had a shorter, less noteworthy career.

The Rookie of the Year award recognizes the accomplishments of first-year players. It is not intended to predict future success. With the benefit of hindsight, a look at the careers of the American Leaguers who received ROY votes in 1987 is something of a Sesame Street experience (One of these things is not like the others). Mark McGwire (63.1 career WAR) won the award, followed by Kevin Seitzer (26.0), Nokes (8.1), Mike Greenwell (23.5) and Devon White (41.3).

Nokes was the only one of these five players whose career did not live up to the promise of his rookie season. It’s not that 1987 was Nokes’ only productive year; 1988 and 1991 were pretty good, too. But in the end Nokes’ flat years outnumbered his good ones.

At least three factors combined to make the 1987 Tigers uniquely suited to Nokes’ skillset.

First is the manager, Sparky Anderson. Catcher is a difficult position for a rookie. In addition to the typical worries about his bat and his glove, a catcher has the responsibility of shepherding the team’s pitching staff. A rookie catcher in the major leagues easily can find himself overwhelmed. Understandably, most managers will give a young catcher a year or two of part-time service before turning him loose as the team’s everyday starter.

Anderson struck a delicate balance between overplaying his rookie catcher and holding him back. He took advantage of the opportunities that came with having a pair of backstops who swung from opposite sides of the plate, Nokes from the left side and Mike Heath from the right. Anderson knew he needed to ease Nokes into the starting role, but Detroit was trying to win the division title, so he also wanted to keep his rookie’s productive bat in the lineup, especially against right-handed pitching. Nokes started 94 games at catcher and another 22 at DH and in the outfield. Heath started most games that the Tigers faced left-handers.

I can easily imagine another manager starting Nokes at catcher in 130 or more games, pushing the rookie to the point of exhaustion.

Second among the factors making the 1987 Tigers the perfect landing place for Nokes was Detroit’s veteran pitching staff. Experienced pitchers require less guidance from their catcher, and Detroit had three such veteran starters: staff ace Jack Morris, in his ninth year as a regular in the rotation; Dan Petry, another ninth-year starter who could well be thought of as co-ace with Morris; and 15-year starter Frank Tanana. Detroit’s other starters at the beginning of the 1987 season were Walt Terrell, in his fifth year as a starter, and rookie Jeff Robinson. The starting rotation grew even more experienced in mid-August when Doyle Alexander arrived from Atlanta in the now-famous trade for John Smoltz. Interestingly, while Nokes likely benefited from being paired with so many experienced pitchers, Anderson had no obvious aversion to using an all-rookie battery; Nokes was not routinely rested on days when Robinson started.

The third and most important component of the perfect storm of Matt Nokes’ rookie season was an interesting accident of history. Nokes arrived in the big leagues at just the right time. In 1987 there was a mysterious increase in home run productivity. Irrespective of why so many home runs were hit that year– the “juiced” ball is a prominent theory–Nokes’ rookie season was one unusually suited to the long ball. Both leagues saw HR numbers that spiked by more than 25 percent compared to the previous five years and the following five years.

League Year(s) HR/year PA/year HR/PA
American

1982-1986

2086

86772

0.024

1987

2634

87401

0.030

1988-1992

1829

86569

0.021

National

1982-1986

1384

73920

0.019

1987

1824

74521

0.024

1988-1992

1371

73635

0.019

Notably, the one eye-catching number on Nokes’ resume is 32, the number of home runs he hit in his rookie season. Nokes was a left-handed pull hitter playing in Tiger Stadium with its storied short porch in right field. It was the perfect recipe for Nokes to make a lasting first impression with his bat. If Nokes had broken in a year earlier or later, his rookie home run total would have been considerably lower.

Playing for the Yankees in 1991, Nokes had the second-highest home run total of his career, 24, or about the number he might have hit in 1987 if it had been a normal year for home runs. However, by this stage of his career, good numbers were the exception, not the rule.

By 1992, the 28 year-old Nokes was a replacement level player, yet he continued to receive opportunities to play. I can’t help but think that as Nokes’ career progressed, his 1987 performance was a compelling factor in his ability to continue to earn starts behind the plate. After all, it’s hard to bench a player who has shown the potential to hit 30 home runs.

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

Others in this series: Al Kaline, Al RosenAl SimmonsAlbert Pujols, Artie WilsonBabe RuthBad News RockiesBarry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob WatsonBobby VeachCarl MaysCesar CedenoCharles Victory FaustChris von der AheDenny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleDoug Glanville, Ed WalshEddie LopatElmer FlickEric Davis, Frank HowardFritz MaiselGary CarterGavvy 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 JacksonSpud ChandlerStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTony PhillipsTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays

What really happened to “Big Ed” Delahanty the night he died?

“Big Ed” Delahanty was the most successful of five siblings who played in the majors during the 1890s and into the early 20th Century. None of Delahanty’s brothers, Frank, Joe, Jim and Tom could match Ed’s prowess. But during the Deadball Era, no one else could either. From 1894 to 1896 Delahanty compiled astonishing batting marks, averaging a cumulative .402 and winning two batting titles during the span. In 1899, Delahanty hit four doubles in the same game and also collected hits in 10 consecutive at bats.

Delahanty, who collected three votes for left field in the BPP All Time Dream Project, toiled for the Philadelphia Quakers, Cleveland Infants, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Senators. While the memory of Delahanty’s batting feats have understandably faded, to this day fans associate “Big Ed” with his mysterious death.

Rumors abound. In 1903 while the Senators were traveling between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Delahanty died after being kicked of a train by the conductor for drunken and disorderly behavior. Was Delahanty’s death a suicide, an accident or murder? Delahanty had, according to some of his teammates, rambled incoherently about death in his last days. There were also reports of a stranger possibly bent on robbery who followed Delahanty as he walked across the International Bridge.

The Delahanty enigma is the first case analyzed in the new book, Mysteries from Baseball’s Past: Investigations of Nine Unsettled Questions edited by Angelo Louisa and David Cicotello.

In the days leading up to his death, Delahanty was tortured by heavy drinking, significant gambling debts, marital woes, contractual conflicts and, even though he had won the National League batting championship the previous year, declining baseball skills.

Beginning from the moment the search team discovered Delahanty’s “bloated and decomposed” corpse, contributor Jerrold Casway recreates in painstaking detail the tragic circumstances surrounding the ”King of Swatsville’s” untimely death. The author considers various scenarios about which there have been decades of speculation before coming to his well-researched (police reports, sworn testimony and numerous newspaper accounts) and indisputable conclusion that Del’s demise was a tragic accident.

Other unraveled mysteries include Chick Stahl’s suicide, the strange death of Harry Pulliam, the non-game that featured Wilbur Cooper and Pete Alexander, Eddie Cicotte and his “shine” ball (or not?), the O’Connell-Dolan scandal (or hoax?), the Cobb –Speaker hoax, Josh Gibson versus Satch and the Dodgers move to Los Angeles: was Walter O’Malley the victim, a bum or something else?

In 2007, I reviewed another outstanding book by the editors, Forbes Field: Essays and Memories of the Pirates Historic Ball Park, 1909-1971. Read my review here.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Omar Vizquel

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

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Claim to fame: Today marks Omar Vizquel’s 45th birthday, and when better to discuss the Hall of Fame credentials of the second oldest player in Major League Baseball?

Vizquel has certainly been around awhile. A Mariners rookie in 1989, the shortstop is now a Blue Jay, having ventured north of the border in 2012 to join his fourth team in five years and sixth overall in his 24-year Major League career. During the near-quarter century at baseball’s highest level, Vizquel has collected 2,842 hits, 451 doubles, and 401 stolen bases, all while hitting for a respectable .272 batting average (all stats as of 4/20). Generally a singles hitter, an anemic .353 slugging percentage bogs down his career .690 OPS and 82 OPS+.

But it was Vizquel’s glove that made him one of the game’s most exciting players during his prime. The Venezuelan’s 11 gold gloves are second only to Ozzie Smith all-time among shortstops, and he’s fifth among shortstops in Total Zone Runs Above Average according to baseball-reference.com. Vizquel’s 13.3 career dWAR (again per baseball-reference) is tied for 33rd at any position and tied for ninth among shortstops. Had he retired after the 2009 season, before a recent slide in defensive production, he would stand tied for 25th overall in dWAR and seventh among shortstops. He’s also the all-time leader in fielding percentage at shortstop and holds the MLB record for most double plays turned at the position.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Once Vizquel retires, which should be soon given his age and diminished skill set, he will wait five years before appearing on the BBWAA ballot for the first of what could potentially be many times.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Any conversation about the Hall of Fame worthiness of a slick-fielding, average-hitting shortstop inevitably comes back to Ozzie Smith, the defensive maestro enshrined in Cooperstown in 2002 despite relatively meek offensive numbers.

But Vizquel falls short of Smith in all facets of the game. While Vizquel’s batting statistics looks superior at first glance, adjustment for era (Vizquel’s prime aligned with the most favorable offensive environment in baseball history) diminishes his numbers and gives Smith a slight advantage in OPS+, 87 to 82. Ozzie’s value was further enhanced by the dearth of quality shortstops during his career, especially relative to the middle-infield boom of the 1990s, when Vizquel competed with Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Alex Rodriguez among others. Because of these changes in the game and at the shortstop position, a shortstop with a .280 batting average and .715 OPS was worth more in 1985 than in 1997, a phenomenon perhaps best illustrated by the difference in All-Star appearances between Smith and Vizquel, Smith having been selected to the Mid-Summer Classic 15 times and Vizquel only thrice.

And while Vizquel was certainly terrific with the glove, he was by no measure on Smith’s level, trailing The Wizard in Gold Gloves (if you view that as a valid measure of defensive ability) as well as dWAR and Ultimate Zone Rating (if you don’t). Baseball-reference gives Smith 8.3 more defensive wins above replacement over the course of his career, a reflection of his 239-130 advantage in Total Zone Runs Above Average.

Just for good measure, Smith was a better base-runner than Vizquel as well, stealing 179 more bases while being caught 17 fewer times. It’s safe to say that at the plate, on the bases, and in the field, Omar Vizquel was no Ozzie Smith.

But is Vizquel a Hall of Famer despite his inferiority to the player with whom he is most often compared? While Phil Rizzuto, Rabbit Maranville, and Luis Aparicio have reached Cooperstown with similar profiles – good shortstop defense but not much production at the plate – Vizquel would, if inducted, tie Maranville and Aparicio for lowest OPS+ in the Hall. If being better than (or equal to) the worst enshrined players were a legitimate argument for a player’s Hall of Fame credentials, we’d be debating the merits of Chuck Knoblauch, Jason Kendall, and Eric Chavez. Producing like Ozzie Smith would have earned Vizquel Hall of Fame consideration. Producing like Rabbit Maranville, however, should not.

If Vizquel manages another 158 hits we’ll face quite the dilemma: a player with 3,000 hits, otherwise unqualified player for the Hall. Should he reach that milestone he’ll almost surely assume a place in Cooperstown, but he still won’t deserve it.

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

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie ReynoldsAndy PettitteBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCraig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon MattinglyDon Newcombe,Dwight EvansGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff BagwellJeff KentJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJohnny MurphyJose CansecoJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry WalkerManny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete BrowningPhil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSammy Sosa, Sean FormanSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark

Guest post from Mike Denton: Memories of the old Pacific Coast League

Editor’s note: Please welcome Mike Denton to BPP. Mike donated $50 for 826 Valencia through the BPP All-Time Dream Project and was entitled to have me write 1,000 words on a subject of his choice. Mike elected to write something himself about his memories from going to Pacific Coast League games for the Sacramento Solons in the 1950s. I can’t guarantee I’ll always publish unsolicited guest posts, but I liked Mike’s piece enough to share it here. It helps that we’re also both from Sacramento. I did my high school senior project a decade ago on the Solons and may share it at some point here.

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I grew up in Sacramento, loving baseball as far back as my memory goes.  As a kid, I was out playing every afternoon and evening with my neighborhood friends until the call came for dinner.  If it was still light after that, we’d go out for more until one could see no longer.  Weekends were simply nonstop baseball until we’d drop. Life was simple and good.

When I was around 10 or so, my dad took me to my first professional game at old Edmonds’ Field to see the hometown Sacramento Solons.  It was a rickety old stadium with wooden benches which, if you weren’t careful in your movements, would leave splinters in your behind.  It didn’t matter, though, because seeing that immense green field before me (and not having any major league fields in existence anywhere on the West Coast with which to compare it), seemed to me to be an absolute gem of a place. I was totally hooked at that point and immediately became a fan. It didn’t matter that the team was notoriously bad and immersed deep in the second division year-after-year. What mattered was that I had a team to follow, a radio station to catch the games on (KFBK) as called by announcer  Tony Koester, and a cast of ever-changing players who became my heroes several years before the Giants moved to San Francisco, the Solons left town, and Willie Mays and company became the object of my affection.

I eagerly attended every game my dad would take me to and listened to all the rest.  I followed their exploits in the Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento Union and kept scrapbooks with stories, photos, and box scores. I developed particular attachments to players like Nippy Jones and Al Heist who made it to, if ever so briefly, the majors.  Other favorites were Richie Myers, Tommy Glaviano, Joe Stanka, Joe Brovia, Cuno Barragan (son-in-law of one of my grammar school teachers), and Bud Watkins. The highlight of any weekend was a Sunday twinight doubleheader. What could possibly be better than two games for the price of one on a warm Sacramento evening? Then, in late summer and just before heading back to school, we’d go out to the State Fair and, if the Solons were on the road, we would see Tony Koester in a small booth doing re-creations of their games using a teletype and props to simulate the crack of the bat and crowd noise. Quite an art form, especially when interference would delay transmission and impromptu creativity became a necessity to keep the broadcast running smoothly as if nothing had happened.

The Solons and all the other remaining Pacific Coast League (PCL) teams in California left the state either at the time of or shortly after the arrival of the Giants and Dodgers. I quickly embraced the Giants and have become a lifelong fan and season ticket holder.  I never forgot my “roots,” however, and hearing of the existence of the Pacific Coast League Historical Society some years back, decided to investigate.  At the time, the organization was holding one of the their two yearly reunions of former players at the Oakland Museum. Since I live in San Leandro, it was an easy to trip to check it out. I showed up at my first such event wearing a Solons’ jersey (circa 1942) produced by Ebbets’ Field Flannels which my significant other had given to me on the occasion of my 47th birthday (hence #47 on the back). Although I was now well past that age at the time of this get-together, it seemed a fitting bit of apparel to wear that day. Little did I expect  how appropriate it would be.

Milling about a room containing display cases full of PCL memorabilia, I suddenly heard a booming voice from across the room bellow out “Solons!”  I looked up and saw a tall, white-haired, barrel-chested man moving quickly in my direction. As he neared me and I caught sight of his name-tag, I  did a double-take when I realized it was the aforementioned Bud Watkins. Here, in the flesh, was a man I had watched pitch for the Solons when I was just a kid.  I have to say that I was just like a kid again at that point; it might as well have been a major league Hall of Famer I was meeting.  We chatted for some time and I told him about watching him pitch at old and long-gone Edmonds’ Field.  Soon, because this was but a twice-a-year event for these old players, it was time for him to circulate amongst the rest of them to share fond remembrances with those who were there and to, in a kind of yearly ritual, remember those who no longer could be.

That was not to be my one and only encounter with Bud.  Each year thereafter, we would chat at the reunion and, on several occasions, I would sit with him during the luncheon portion of the day.  We even started exchanging Christmas cards.  As my 60th birthday approached, and unbeknownst to me, my significant other called him at his home in Stockton and told him that we would be in Sacramento for the Jazz Jubilee on Memorial Day weekend. She wondered if it would be possible for him to meet us for dinner one evening to surprise me and help celebrate my milestone birthday.  He did not hesitate to accept and we had a wonderful evening together. As he headed back to Stockton, he loaned us his pass to the Solons’ Club at River Cats’ Stadium where we had tickets for a game the next night.  A heart as big as his frame; that’s how I’ll always remember him. We saw him at several such reunion events in later years where he was always a big hit, especially with his larger-than-life personality and good humor. Then, one year, he was suddenly no longer there.  He had passed away before attending a similar and even larger reunion event held each year in Carson, CA.  I’m so happy to have known him. Having his autograph is every bit as important to me as some of the ones I have from major leaguers.  After all, he and his generation of players are what caused me to become the fan I am of this great game called baseball.

Herb Kamm: A wonderful life

Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle donated $50 to the charity aspect of the BPP All-Time Dream Project. As such, he’s entitled to 1,000 words written by me on a topic of his choice, and I invite anyone who’d like a guaranteed post to donate a similar amount. In this case, Peter asked me to write something on a professor of his at Cal Poly, former newspaperman Herb Kamm. Here goes.

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I never knew Herb Kamm, but if I were to make a list of people I’d liked to have met, Kamm would rank somewhere near the top. I’ve spent a lot of my life wishing I could have known my great-grandfather Elmer Danielson who became a factory owner through fifteen years of night school and who had a sense of humor family members still talk about nearly 40 years after his death. I’d have liked to have met Sacramento native and former big league outfielder Joe Marty who got favorably compared to Joe DiMaggio when they were teammates in the Pacific Coast League and who I started researching a book on two years ago. After them, Kamm might rank third on my personal list.

Outwardly, there would appear to be nothing hugely special or unusual about the circumstances of Kamm’s life, same as Marty or my great-grandfather. I don’t think that’s anything to bemoan. When all is said and done in life, I think most of us are lucky if we’re remembered by anyone beyond the people who love us or the handful of lives we might touch. In Herb Kamm’s case, he probably influenced more people than most, first as a newspaper editor then as a senior citizen professor of journalism in California. By the time our paths could have conceivably crossed, he was teaching a sports journalism class at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo where I attended college. In fact, if I had my act together, I could have taken that class the spring of 2002, the end of my freshman year.

But, as it goes with lots of kids away from home for the first time, my freshman year of college was more about binge drinking, finding new and creative ways to fail at life, and making a rough go of it in my studies. I did very little writing, nearly failed out of school, and if I could, I’d take a mulligan on that whole abysmal year. By the time I had improved academically, Kamm was dead. He died at the beginning of my sophomore year at 85, and I at least made it to his memorial service on campus, getting to hear nice stories about a sweet man. I really missed out on at least one awesome opportunity Kamm could have provided me. One of the sports journalism students told me that on the last day of class the preceding spring, Kamm’s students got to conduct a phone interview with Bob Costas.

I’m lucky that I’ve had a lot of fine mentors in writing and life already. I knew I wanted to write from the time I was eight years old thanks to my dad working diligently with me on it that year after I brought home a D for a report on the sun. In college, I had professors who won Pulitzer Prizes, were working on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and in the case of one professor who had an odd affinity for serial killers, played a few of my peers and I an interview she did with Charles Manson. The day Michael Jackson got arrested, I remember her telling us with a grin, “This is my kind of story.” In recent years, writing this blog has brought me in contact with a lot of cool current and former sports scribes from Joe Posnanski to Josh Wilker to Robert Creamer, among others. I’m lucky to have the life I do and get to interact with a lot of interesting people. But I’d have liked to have known Kamm.

Thanks to the magic of Google, though, there’s more I can say about Kamm here. First off,  there’s a journalism scholarship in his name at Cal Poly today, and rightfully so. Kamm accomplished a lot, providing a blueprint for any aspiring journalist. He got his first reporting job as a 17-year-old in Asbury Park, New Jersey, about the same time that another 17-year-old Frank Sinatra was readying for his first professional singing gig in nearby Hoboken. One forum says Kamm covered both a World Series and the 1945 funeral of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Kamm also served as executive editor of the New York World Tribune from 1966 until its folding in 1967, having a front row seat for the demise of a legendary outlet. It’s nothing to celebrate, but I imagine it at least yielded some interesting stories for Kamm. And I’d loved to know what it was like presiding over a staff that featured writers the likes of Tom Wolfe and Red Smith.

Kamm’s death even earned a mention in the New York Times on September 27, 2002. Here’s the full text of Kamm’s obituary:

Herb Kamm, executive editor of The World Journal Tribune in New York in 1966 and 1967, died on Wednesday at home here. He was 85.

He learned he had leukemia eight days ago, his family said.

In 1943, Mr. Kamm joined The New York World-Telegram & The Sun, where he became managing editor in 1963. That paper merged with The New York Herald Tribune and The Journal-American to become The World Journal Tribune. After The World Journal Tribune closed, in 1967, he became an editorial consultant for Scripps Howard Newspapers.

He was at The Cleveland Press from 1969 until it closed in 1982. He later was editorial director at WJKW-TV, a CBS affiliate in Cleveland. He then taught at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

Mr. Kamm was born in Long Branch, N.J., and early in his career he worked for The Asbury Park Press in New Jersey and The Associated Press.

He is survived by his wife, Phyllis; their three sons; six grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

Perhaps we touch more lives and have a broader footprint than we sometimes know. At his memorial service, one of Kamm’s sons offered a toast and a proposed headline for his dad’s life, telling those of us in attendance, “With respect to Frank Capra, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.'” Indeed. Nearly a decade after his death, the legacy of Herb Kamm lives on.

Any Player/Any Era: Ed Walsh

What he did: If you’ve heard of Old Hoss Radbourn and marvel at his Baseball Reference page, Ed Walsh should be right up your alley. Walsh is one of baseball’s earliest greats, yet is often forgotten.

Walsh began his career in earnest at 25 in 1906, by throwing 278.1 innings for the Chicago White Sox. Walsh dominated the field, posting a 1.88 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 2.95 K:BB rate and 137 ERA+.

He took a major step forward the following season, leading the league in ERA (1.60), games (56), games started (46), complete games (37), saves (4), IPs (422.1) and ERA+ (151). He also fielded his position well, accumulating 227 assists, the most by a pitcher in a season.

Yet, 1907 was by no means his masterpiece; 1908 was. He pitched 464 innings, the second most innings in any season since 1893, and won 40 games the second most wins in a season since 1893. In addition, he started 49 games, the eighth most games started in a season since 1893. He had 190 assists this year, the third most ever.

Two seasons later, Walsh allowed just 7.47 base runners per nine innings, tied for the fifth least in a season since 1893 (min. 1.0 IP per scheduled game).

When it was all said and done, Walsh pitched 57 shutouts, tied for the 11th most all time. He also won 13 1-0 games, tied for the first most 1-0 victories. He had four seasons of 20 wins, 200 K’s and an ERA under 3.00, tied for the sixth most ever. Heck, he even stole home twice in his career.

Walsh’s 1.82 career ERA is unofficially the lowest by a pitcher (min. 1,500 IPs) in baseball history. Along the way, Walsh had a little help with his success. Hall-of-Famer Sam Crawford said, Ed Walsh “threw a spitball. I think that ball disintegrated on the way to the plate, and the catcher put it back together again. I swear, when it went past the plate, it was just the spit went by.”

Walsh had a very short but pronounced peak. From 1906-1912, he averaged 361 IPs, a 1.71 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 3.22 K:BB rate, and 156 ERA+.

Not surprisingly, Walsh’s arm began to suffer. After 1912, it was reported that Walsh wanted to take a year off, but showed up for Spring Training, claiming, The White Sox needed me—implored me to return—so I did.” Clearly this was a poor decision, as Walsh threw 393 innings in 1912 (with a 151 ERA+) and just 190.2 total in the five seasons that followed.

Walsh later said, “I could feel the muscles grind and wrench during the game, and it seemed to me my arm would leap out of my socket when I shot the ball across the plate. My arm would keep me awake till morning with a pain I had never known before.”

Era he would thrive in: Walsh would need an era that still allowed the spit ball but also overlapped with more modern medical advancements. For those reasons, he belongs in the mid- to late-1970s. The first Tommy John surgery was in 1974 and pitchers like Gaylord Perry continued to throw spitters as late as the early 80s. Consequently, Walsh could still use the pitch that made him famous while getting the medical attention he’d need for overuse. It’s also possible that throwing only 300 innings a season would delay his need for medical attention. For many reasons, Walsh probably would have thrived on the 1970s Baltimore Orioles.

Why: The Baltimore Orioles of the 1970s were fantastic clubs, helmed by Earl Weaver. They had consistently excellent pitching, but had far from a stable rotation (aside from Jim Palmer). In ’75, Walsh could have taken Ross Grimsley’s starts and help a club that finished second but went 90-69. In ’76, Walsh would replace Mike Cuellar’s and Grimsley’s poor innings for another second place Orioles club. He could do the same (replacing Grimsley) for another second place club in ’77. In ’78, he could replace beloved Mike Flanagan’s 281.1 IPs of 87 ERA+ pitching for an Orioles club that went 90-71 and remarkably finished in fourth place.

In short, Walsh would lead the staff for a team that perpetually threatened 100 wins. Normalizing Walsh’s stats to the 1971 Orioles would yield a 1.96 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 1,707 K’s to just 652 walks. In addition, the Orioles did a good job getting innings from pitchers and helping them through injuries. There’s no doubt Walsh’s career would have been extended.

Manicball: A history of mental illness in baseball

Editor’s note: It’s my pleasure to present the following piece by Stacey Gotsulias. Stacey is a senior MLB editor for AerysSports.com and wrote the biography on Mike Schmidt for the BPP All-Time Dream Project. She also writes with blunt honesty about her battles with mental illness, and as we’ve gotten to be friends, I thought a piece from her on this and another subject she knows well, baseball, might be apt. Enjoy.

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Marty Bergen

There are many times when just hearing a sentence can change your life. The one that changed mine on a dreary winter morning back in 2007 was, “You have bipolar disorder.” And as I sat there listening to the doctor explain what that diagnosis meant, I was both relieved and frightened. I know it seems like quite a paradox but I was relieved because I finally knew what was happening to me. After many years of sudden mood swings, numerous panic attacks, long bouts of depression and a few confusing manic episodes, I was finally told what was wrong with me. At the same time, I was also frightened because of everything I knew about bipolar disorder.

The stories that came out about people with the disease were never positive and now, I was one of them. I’d hear about people disappearing for days at a time, or I’d see stories on the news about people who were once famous but who struggled with the disorder. They were usually haggard, sometimes living on the streets. Or even worse, I’d hear about people snapping and going on rampages.

Was that going to be my future? I’ll admit the thought of what could happen to me was pretty disturbing.

In the five years since my diagnosis, the stigma of having a mental illness has lessened a bit, though there are some people who are quick to dismiss it. They act as if the disorder– whatever it may be– is something only in our heads or that it’s something we can just fix ourselves. Believe me, I wish it were that simple. I would love nothing more than to wake up one morning and declare that I no longer have bipolar disorder. Most people who suffer from mental illness would rather be normal, whatever that is. Sadly, that is not a reality.

Having a mental illness is like having diabetes or any other disease. There are meds to be taken, regular visits to the doctor where– in this case– behavior is monitored. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong struggle, and unfortunately, it doesn’t magically go away.

***

The sport of baseball has seen its share of players who have suffered from various types of mental illnesses. In recent years, stars Dontrelle Willis and Zack Greinke have had well documented struggles with social anxiety disorder. In 2009, when Willis was diagnosed people were pretty callous, joking that his anxiety was because of his high ERA. Willis also didn’t help himself when he returned to Spring Training the following year saying he wasn’t seeking help for his disorder nor taking medication. Willis said that it was in God’s hands.

Two-time All Star Jimmy Piersall struggled with bipolar disorder, known during his career as manic depression. Piersall got into fights with opposing players– a famous brawl occurred in 1952 when he goaded Billy Martin of the New York Yankees into a fight– as well as fans and teammates. Piersall was once ejected from a game but went into the stands to berate the umpires from the upper deck. Piersall spent some time in a facility in 1953 and stated in his autobiography, Fear Strikes Out, “Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Who ever heard of Jimmy Piersall, until that happened?”

And in the early 20th century, poor Charlie Faust who barely played baseball, was used as a joker or jester of sorts, and was institutionalized only to die of tuberculosis the following year. The story on Faust was that in 1911, he was informed by a fortune teller in his hometown in Kansas that he needed to pitch for the New York Giants, in order for them win the pennant. So Faust traveled to St. Louis where the Giants were playing. He had no prior experience playing baseball but he told manager John McGraw of the prophecy. Superstitious as baseball men were and still are, McGraw kept Faust on the bench, paying him out of pocket, and the Giants won the pennant. When the Giants began to lose, Faust was cast aside.

The story of Marty Bergen is darker. He played catcher for the Boston Beaneaters, helping lead them to the National League pennant in 1897 and 1898. Bergen was known primarily for throwing runners out than his prowess as a hitter– his career slash line of .265/.299/.347 doesn’t exactly jump out. But Bergen was also known for something much more sinister:

Even as a teenager, Bergen had showed signs of anxiety and stress. He would become moody, pout, and storm off if he felt that he wasn’t getting his fair share of applause. In 1891, his first professional season, he engaged in a brutal fistfight with one of his teammates. During his time in Boston, Bergen had several run-ins with teammates and opponents. Newspapers commonly referred to his erratic behavior, describing him as “sullen and silent” and highlighting his moodiness, aloofness, and inaccessibility.

Though Bergen had been known to struggle with bouts of depression and had experienced violent mood swings, everything came to a head after his eldest child and namesake Martin, died in 1899.

Marty Bergen began imagining things that weren’t happening. He believed everybody from opposing teams to his own teammates were trying to poison him. He even believed that his own doctor and wife were trying to poison him. Bergen’s doctor was only prescribing bromides, which weren’t a real cure at all, especially for Bergen, they just helped to calm people down when they were anxious.

At first his teammates, when speaking to the media, would mention Bergen’s bouts with violence– he once punched a teammate during a team breakfast– but they also said that once he was on the field, everything was forgotten and that he was fine. Another issue was that as much as Bergen had become a problem within the organization, he was still popular with the fans and in 1898, Bergen had his best season .280/.302/.359 with a 46 percent caught stealing rate.

But by the end of the 1899 season, Bergen’s erratic behavior had become too much for his teammates; so much so that several of them threatened to not return to the team if Bergen were there in 1900.

This would never come to pass because on the morning of January 19, 1900, Bergen woke up, took an axe, and killed his two children and his wife before slitting his throat with a razor so violently that he nearly decapitated himself.

The little boy (Bergen’s 3-year-old son) was lying on the floor with a large wound in the head. Mrs. Bergen’s skull was terribly crushed, having evidently been struck more than one blow by the infuriated husband. The appearance of the little girl (his 6-year-old daughter found on the kitchen floor next to Bergen) also showed that a number of savage blows had been rained upon the top and side of her head. Bergen’s throat had been cut with a razor, and the head was nearly severed.

After his death, his own doctor called Bergen insane and a maniac. The doctor also claimed that Bergen was beyond help.

Bergen knew he wasn’t right but he was so paranoid that he couldn’t help himself. He’d disappear from his team for days at a time, usually retreating to his farm in Massachusetts to be with his family and then would show up to play like nothing had happened.

During one game in 1898, Bergen was behind the plate and envisioning the pitcher was throwing knives at him. The visions were so real; he was dodging out of the way of the knives. Needless to say, Bergen was removed from that game.

***

If Marty Bergen were living in 1999 as opposed to 1899, he could have gotten the help he needed, instead of being turned away by his friends and his doctor. That’s not to say that murder-suicides don’t happen now– they most certainly do– but mental illness is understood much better now than it was over 100 years ago. Bergen would have been diagnosed early, would have been given medication, and wouldn’t have been left to his own devices.

In 2001, Sports Illustrated published an article about Bergen called ‘Collision At Home.’ In that article, the last day of his life is examined and a doctor from Harvard Medical School attempted to diagnose Bergen from what had been written about him.

In addition to paranoia, Martin Bergen most likely suffered from schizophrenia with a touch of manic depression. “If I had to make a diagnosis, that would be it,” says Dr. Carl Salzman, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who examined various contemporary accounts of Bergen’s behavior. Schizophrenia, Salzman says, can be marked by delusions such as Bergen experienced: “a belief that something is happening that isn’t, and it’s usually threatening. Other symptoms are withdrawal, inability to socialize, or fear of socializing; flat or dull feelings, not the usual range of expression of emotion; and difficulty thinking and controlling one’s thoughts. It’s a brain disease that causes the person to be more vulnerable to the usual stresses of life.”

***

The game of baseball should be an escape, whether for spectators or for players. I am grateful to be able to watch games and write about them. I’m grateful that for a few hours, my everyday struggles are put on the back burner. For men like Greinke, Willis, Piersall, Faust, and Bergen, even playing the game they love was a struggle.

And though I sometimes feel like I’ve been given a raw deal because my life has been forever altered by my bipolar diagnosis, I also realize my circumstances could be far more dire. I’m lucky because I wasn’t thrown into a mental institution during one of my manic phases. If I had lived a century ago, I easily could have been.

I think about Charlie Faust and Marty Bergen, who didn’t have the same options as I do, and I feel a mixture of sadness and anger. Poor Faust was laughed at and thought of as a clown. His delusions were fodder for everyone else. And poor Marty Bergen, even while he was crying out for help, he was ultimately ignored, and his family paid the price.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Sean Forman

Claim to fame: I’ll preface this by saying I was planning to write a column on Sean Forman before he bailed me out of a jam this morning. I signed up about a month ago for a free 30-day trial of the Play Index, a nifty tool on Forman’s website Baseball-Reference.com that allows for the kind of searches that used to take me hours. Want to know how many players in baseball history have at least 500 home runs and an OPS+ of 140? A quick Play Index search shows there to be 19.

My free trial expired on Sunday, and I put up $36 that evening for a year-long subscription. By some glitch in the Baseball-Reference.com system, though, perhaps a quirk of PayPal, my order was delayed for a few days during which time I couldn’t see the results of my P-I searches. I already don’t want to fathom writing regularly about baseball history without the index, so I sent an email to Baseball-Reference.com this morning, and they fixed the glitch within an hour or so.

Such is the power of the most important baseball website ever. I’ll go a step further and say that I think Forman’s the most influential person in baseball research today. He’s a modern version of Henry Chadwick, a 19th century statistician who invented the box score, batting average, and earned run average among other things. If Chadwick can have a place in the Hall of Fame, I’d augur for an eventual spot for Forman as well.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Chadwick has had a plaque in the Executives & Pioneers section of Cooperstown since 1938. At quick glance, he might be the only statistician enshrined, even if modern godfather of statistics Bill James is sorely overdue. That’s a story for another time, though James’ case and Forman’s as well could reasonably come before the Veterans Committee in the next decade or so.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Some may sooner call James the most important baseball researcher today. But James has slowed in recent years, and while I respect his scholarship, he remains a highly polarizing figure. Some people zealously defend his work. Others have little use for it. Forman, meanwhile, continues to refine a website that appeals to analysts and traditionalists alike and draws several hundred thousand people a month. Just past his 40th birthday, Forman’s hopefully just getting started.

Consider how far baseball research online has come since Forman launched Baseball-Reference.com in 2000. A former college mathematics professor, he created his site after being unable to find stats for the likes of Ty Cobb on the Internet. By 2007, B-R was up to pages for all 17,000 players in MLB history, as well as 40,000 pages of Wikipedia-style content and 98,000 pages of box scores. Forman told SI.com that year:

I haven’t necessarily found all the data. The people at Retrosheet and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), they just do incredible work. I often say that I’m just putting a friendly face on the things that they’re doing. I certainly can’t take credit for getting the data in the raw format. But one of the things that I think the site does well is make this data easy to find. That’s always been a goal of mine, is to make things as quick and easy as possible.

I love that attitude, and at a time where people who’ve devised metrics like Wins Above Replacement are taking heat for a lack of transparency, I respect what Forman’s doing. More than that, I try to follow his example here.

End of day, I can only speak for myself, a blogger with no idea how much worse my work would be without Forman’s influence. Giving his organization $36 was the least I could do, and truth is, Forman’s done more for me than I’ve ever done for him. $36? Heck, I joke that I spend so much time on Baseball-Reference.com I may as well be paying the site rent.

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

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie Reynolds, Andy PettitteBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCraig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon MattinglyDon Newcombe,Dwight EvansGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff Bagwell, Jeff KentJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJohnny MurphyJose CansecoJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry WalkerManny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete BrowningPhil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSammy SosaSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark

To Make Room for Jackie, “Big” Ed Stevens Sold to Pittsburgh

Here’s a little known chapter from the great Jackie Robinson’s baseball history. Robinson has a connection, albeit an indirect one, to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In 1947, when Robinson was called up to Brooklyn, “Big Ed” Stevens held down first base. Remember that Branch Rickey ordered field manager Leo Durocher (before he was suspended) to play Robinson at first  and leave Eddie Stanky at second. Rickey thought Robinson would be safer at first from the possibility of national league rivals intentionally spiking him or bowling him over. Robinson didn’t move to second base until 1948.

Before the season began, Durocher called a team meeting and announced: “The old man says he’s going to bring the black man up.” What Durocher didn’t add is that Robinson would be inserted as the first sacker. Since Robinson played his minor league career as a second baseman, Stevens didn’t realize that his job was on the line. But when the time rolled around for rosters to be cut to 25, Rickey told Stevens that he was being returned to Montreal in the Dodgers’ best interests.

Rickey said to Stevens:

“If you would let me pull you off the roster and send you down to Montreal, I’m going to put Jackie Robinson in your spot. This will give me enough time to get rid of Stanky who isn’t good for the ball club and Jackie belongs at second anyway. I’ll shake hands with you on a gentleman’s agreement and make the solemn promise to you that you’ll be back as soon as I can get rid of Stanky.”

Rickey swore to Stevens that the young first baseman figured prominently in the Dodgers’ long term plans.

Stevens, who said he was speechless and felt like he “had the rug pulled out from under him,” said he first sensed his ultimate fate when, during a stretch of several early games, Robinson went 0-26 but continued to play.

Rickey never kept his promise. Although Rickey bought Stevens up in September, it was too late to qualify for the World Series. During the few games Stevens played he, like Jackie, endured fans’ and opposing players’ barbs. From the grandstand: “There’s Jackie Robinson’s caddy” and from the visitor’s dugout “How did you let a nigger take your job.”

By the end of his rookie year, Robinson played 151 games and had hit a solid .297. Stevens, on the other hand, was hit .154 in 5 games and the Dodgers sold him to the Pirates.

During the off season, Stevens and his family returned to his native Galveston, Texas where the taunting about being the first white man ever replaced by a black man continued all winter. By spring training 1948, Stevens eagerly joined the Pirates where, as he recalled, “he worked harder than ever” and learned from Ralph Kiner and Honus Wagner. In 1948, Stevens hit .254 with ten home runs (in cavernous Forbes Field) and knocked in 64. But toward September, nagging injuries to Stevens’ hips and shoulders took their toll. In 1949 and 1950, his last year as a major league player, Stevens warmed the bench.

Stevens, who says that to this day people ask him if he resents Robinson for taking his job, remembers Jackie this way:

“I hold no hard feelings against Jackie in any shape or form. At ball games, my wife Margie and his wife Rachael sat together and visited. There were no hard feelings in any way. Jackie showed himself to be a fine player and a good man.”

Stevens, 87, lives in Galveston.

The BPP All-Time Dream Project

As founder and editor of this website, it is my pleasure to present the results of the BPP All-Time Dream Project.

Over the past two months, I conducted a project having people vote on nine-player all-time dream teams. The idea was for voters to pick a team to win a one-off, sandlot game, the ultimate cosmic playoff. This wasn’t about a 25-man roster or designated hitters or relievers, just finding nine players to win a game. I received more than 600 votes in all from a mix of baseball figures, fellow writers, and others.

To help with the presentation and do justice to the subject matter, I recruited a number of my favorite baseball writers and hired an illustrator, Sarah Wiener to create trading cards for each player. Like the cards? A complimentary set can be had for the first 100 people who donate $25 to 826 Valencia, a non-profit that teaches journalism to kids. We’re looking to raise $3,000 and, as of press time, we’re about halfway there. If everyone who reads this post donates even a dollar, we’ll shatter the goal. To donate, go here.

All this being said, the nine-player all-time dream lineup is below in defensive order, with full results of voting posted farther down:

P – Walter Johnson, by Diane Firstman of Value Over Replacement Grit

“The Big Train” was a strapping (for his time) six-foot-one, 200-pound righthander from Humboldt, Kansas. Born in 1887, he was blessed with raw talent, a tremendous work ethic, extreme poise and gentle demeanor. Johnson chiseled his maturing body through work on the family farm and later in the oil fields of California. Though he didn’t pick up a baseball till age 16, Johnson knew he had a gift in his right arm.

“From the first time I held a ball,” he explained to an interviewer, “it settled in the palm of my right hand as though it belonged there and, when I threw it, ball, hand and wrist, and arm and shoulder and back seemed to all work together.”

With an unusual delivery, a short windmill-style windup followed by a sweeping sidearm motion, Johnson racked up impressive strikeout totals for the era.  Relying mostly on a nasty fastball during his early career (he didn’t develop a curveball till 1913), he nonetheless led the American League in punchouts twelve times and strikeout-to-walk ratio nine times in his 21 years in the bigs.

From his debut in 1907 through his finale in 1927, Johnson tallied an astonishing 5,914.1 innings pitched, over 1,100 more than anyone else in that span. He completed nearly 80 percent of his 666 lifetime starts. His Washington Senators teams were quite bad for most of his career, which puts his .599 lifetime win percentage into better light against the franchise’s .462 aggregate in games he didn’t start. He was also adept at the plate, with 41 homers and a lifetime .616 OPS.

In the voting for this project, Johnson easily outpointed the two men who finished closest to him, Sandy Koufax and Pedro Martinez, and deservedly so. While Koufax had a higher peak value, his career lasted roughly half as long, and he was only predominately a starting pitcher for nine seasons. Martinez’s 1999-2000 ledgers match anyone else’s two-year run, especially in the context of the steroid era. However, his body betrayed him after age 28, as he only logged 200+ innings twice after that and was ostensibly done at age 33. Johnson’s consistency and longevity give him the nod for the starting pitcher position here.

C – Johnny Bench, by Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk

What would Johnny Bench bring to this team?

He’d bring some freaking common sense, that’s what he’d bring. Because Bench wasn’t just a great catcher, he was smart too: He was the first catcher to wear a batting helmet under that mask as opposed to a wool cap and the first to catch one-handed, keeping his throwing hand behind him. Which leads one to ask whether anyone before him may have been better but for taking a half dozen back swings to the back of the head and countless foul tips off of bare thumbs.

OK, fine, maybe his common sense wouldn’t have been the most important thing. I mean, the team has a manager and stuff. So how about this: durability. People talk about his tremendous power, but this all-time team is not lacking for power. An underrated part of Bench’s game was that he caught all the time, starting over 140 games at catcher for the first ten years of his career, a pace that one simply doesn’t see… ever.  If this team manages to stay together for a long time, sure, we may have some awkwardness as Bench’s eventually creaky knees cause him to ask the skipper to plug him in at third base sometimes, but the first decade or so will be a no brainer. The manager can forego a backup catcher and use the roster spot for a reliever. Not that this team really needs those, of course.

But I guess you don’t care too much about the brains and the durability. You’re probably right not to, because Bench’s calling cards, obviously, were his best-ever defense and crazy boomstick. One doesn’t win two MVP awards and ten gold gloves on grit and savvy alone. One wins those because few runners dared attempt to steal on him — and those who did were rarely successful — even at the height of the stolen base era. One wins those because catchers, especially in the 1970s, simply didn’t hit 40 home runs, drive in 100+ and lead the league in total bases. Yeah, Bench did that once.

Crazy, right?

1B – Lou Gehrig, by Frank Graham Jr., author of A Farewell to Heroes

As I write this, there is an old photograph nearby, hanging on the wall of my office here in Maine. The photo shows a powerful man in pinstripes, hatless, gripping a bat and looking affably at a 12-year-old boy next to him on the dugout steps at Yankee Stadium. The year is 1937. The man is Lou Gehrig and I am the boy, staring back at my hero from under the Yankee cap he has taken off and put on my head.

My father was a sports columnist for the New York Sun. I have no clear recollection of that day 75 years ago when a photographer from the Sun snapped the picture, but other memories of that time will remain with me to the end. Several times a year my father would take me to the stadium so I could watch my favorite player and my favorite team.

We—father and son–would arrive a couple of hours before a game, visit the little office occupied by manager Joe McCarthy, where my father would interview him for his column the next day, and then walk through the dim passageway under the stands to the Yankees’ dugout. There, in a burst of sunlight, were members of one of the great Yankee teams, some sitting on the cushioned bench, others moving on clattering spikes up the wooden steps onto the field for batting practice.

But the unforgettable moment arrived when Gehrig came off the field and sat beside us. He and my father would talk, Gehrig in his mildly hoarse, New Yorker-tinted voice. And when he stood up again he would lay a hand on my shoulder and ask how I was doing. Some of my friends found their heaven in church. And later, listening to the 1937 All-Star Game was pure–, well, joy: Gehrig was the star of stars, driving in four runs with a double and a home run.

That was the final great season. The disease which would kill Gehrig, and which ironically is named for him, slowed him and finally forced the end of his then-record consecutive game streak. On a June night in 1941, I heard over the radio that “the Iron Man” had died. I went upstairs, lay down on my bed, and blubbered a little. I wept not really because I had loved the man who was dead, but because something uniquely mine was gone for good.

Nine years later I went to work in the office of the Brooklyn Dodgers. There, I found myself occupying an alcove next door to the Dodgers’ chief scout–and Lou Gehrig’s only true rival as the greatest first baseman of all time. George Sisler had batted .420 in 1922 and was one of baseball’s immortals, with a plaque in the Hall of Fame to prove it. Spectacled, gray-haired, with a shy, Midwesterner’s smile, he was a lovable man whom I was honored to call my friend.

I believe Lou Gehrig was the greater first basemen, as Graham Womack’s BPP poll confirms. But I was glad to see at least one vote here go to another of my heroes. Both live on clearly in my memory.

2B – Rogers Hornsby, by William Juliano of The Captain’s Blog

Rogers Hornsby was the National League’s answer to Babe Ruth. Like the Bambino, Hornsby was his league’s pre-eminent offensive player, leading the senior circuit in OPS+ in all but one season during the 1920s. The Rajah’s remarkable dominance in the decade also included seven batting titles, two “MVP” awards, and a pair of triple crowns. To this day, Hornsby still ranks as the greatest offensive second baseman by most objective measures, not to mention one of the best right handed hitters to ever play the game.

Hornsby’s offense takes a backseat to no one on the All-Time Dream Project team, and his versatility makes him one of the most valuable components of this historic lineup. However, some critics have suggested that Hornsby’s defense doesn’t meet the standards of an all-time team. Defense is hard enough to evaluate with the benefit of today’s advanced technology and improved record keeping, so even if Hornsby was relatively lacking in this regard, it seems presumptions to suggest that it cancels out his overwhelming offensive advantage.

Even if he used a glove of iron instead of gold, Hornsby’s prolific bat would still make him a perfect fit on any all-time team. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about his ego. During his long career, Hornsby was prone to butting heads with management and teammates alike, and was never shy about demanding a higher salary. What’s more, he was known to be intolerant of drinking and smoking, which probably wouldn’t go over well with Babe Ruth. Could Hornsby coincide with a team full of egos as big as his? It sure would be a lot of fun to find out.

Despite his personality flaws, Hornsby’s most redeeming quality was his unmitigated love for the game. “I stare out the window and wait for spring,” the second baseman once famously replied when asked about his winter activity. What else would you expect from a man who postponed the burial of his mother until after the 1926 World Series?

3B – Mike Schmidt, by Stacey Gotsulias, senior MLB editor and writer for Aerys Sports

Mike Schmidt would bring one heck of a batting stance to this sandlot game. Described as unusual, Schmidt would stand with his back slightly toward the pitcher, while shaking his butt, waiting for the pitch. That alone would be worth having Schmidt on the team. In a lineup of menacing hitters, Schmidt could distract the opposing sandlot team’s pitcher with his butt.

Course, the best reason to have Mike Schmidt manning third baseman here is that he ranks as one of the greatest players in baseball history, certainly one of the most complete. Countless players are very good at fielding their position but don’t have a strong bat to match and vice versa. Not Schmidt, he was the total package. He hit for power, produced runs, and played sparkling defense. His quick reaction and strong arm helped him win 10 Gold Gloves. Schmidt was also durable, averaging over 140 games a season for the bulk of his 18-year Major League career.

His 548 home runs alone should be enough for the dream lineup, though they’re packaged with three MVP Awards and 12 All Star appearances. Schmidt’s also one of only 15 players in baseball history to hit four home runs in one game– he finished that game with eight RBI, 17 total bases and his fourth home run turned out to be the game winning hit.

Schmidt wasn’t a prototypical bulky slugger, he was lean and most of his power came from his wrists and forearms. Pete Rose once said about Schmidt, “To have his body, I’d trade him mine, my wife’s and I’d throw in some cash.” Schmidt also changed his approach from being a dead pull hitter to one who hit to all fields and that change didn’t diminish his numbers at all. In fact, it helped him lead the Philadelphia Phillies to their first World Series title in 129 years of existence.

The best thing about Mike Schmidt that’s an asset to any team was that he was quietly good. He didn’t talk a big game; he let his play on the field do the talking for him.

SS – Honus Wagner, by Marty Appel, author of Pinstripe Empire

We like to think of our shortstops as lithe and graceful, sort of like Ozzie Smith or Luis Aparicio or Marty Marion, and yet the blocky body of Honus Wagner, bow-legged and a little clunky looking, keeps getting in the way with those eight batting titles and 723 stolen bases.

More than a century after he arrived on the scene, he still is the default setting on all-time teams, whether chosen by aging traditionalists or new age sabermetricians. Alex Rodriguez gave him a run on this particular poll, but as always, yeah, there were those eight batting titles. History hasn’t been kind to the traditional “all-timers,” be it Pie Traynor at third or Tris Speaker in center. Not even Ty Cobb, with his dozen batting titles, could survive this latest tally. But, the Dutchman did it.

Younger fans may think of Wagner as the guy on the $1 million tobacco card that periodically gets sold, but he was the embodiment of fierce, hard play and not the sort of guy you’d want to challenge with a hard slide. He never led the league in putouts or assists, but by most accounts, he was a sure-handed force in the middle of the diamond.     “It was impossible to place him wrongly on a ballfield,” wrote Ed Barrow, who discovered and signed him in 1897, and later turned Babe Ruth into an outfielder. ”He could play anything and he would have been a great star at any position.

“Wagner is the greatest ballplayer of all time,” Barrow concluded.

Hard to top that, even 62 years after it was written.

LF – Ted Williams, by Josh Wilker, author of Cardboard Gods and the related blog

No one has ever loved anything more than Ted Williams loved hitting. Think of him in the light of that love. Forget the other stuff, the other versions of Ted Williams, the severed head on ice, the beloved golf-cart elder centering a teary moment at the All-Star Game, the world-class fly-fisherman in the wilderness, the thickening yet still sublimely effective superstar in the twilight of his career, the fighter pilot landing a flaming jet, the fierce embattled inflexible prodigy in his prime. Think of him young, slouching in the on-deck circle, bat on his shoulders, nothing but skin and bones and hunger and genius. He’s waiting for his chance to step into the box. We’ve all had that chance, loved that chance. But has anyone loved it more?

No one was harder to get out: he is the all-time leader in on-base percentage. Additionally, he is second only to Babe Ruth in smashing the daylights out of the ball (i.e., slugging percentage). Which slight advantage by either player would suggest superior effectiveness as a hitter? A distillate stat that pulls in data from other statistics, offensive win percentage (the statistic measures, according to Baseball-Reference.com, “the percentage of games a team with nine of this player batting would win”), suggests the players were essentially identical in their near-perfect potency as hitters:

Babe Ruth      .848
Ted Williams .847

The hundredth of a percentage point that separates these two (who tower over everyone else on the list) seems negligible, placing the legends in a virtual tie. Factor into that tie the years Williams lost in his prime serving in the military.

Now, imagine his turn has come. The hungry bone-thin genius walks toward the plate. Think of the unmatched ferocity of his love. No one ever made more of his turn at bat.

CF – Willie Mays, by Rory Paap of Bay City Ball

It might be quicker to say what the “Say Hey Kid” doesn’t bring to a lineup than what he does, but that wouldn’t be much fun. In a sentence that, by itself, won’t come close to doing him justice: he was the greatest defensive center fielder that ever lived and quite possibly the best right-handed batter to pick up a stick. That says nothing of his base running or the grace with which he did everything.

He patrolled the cavernous center fields of the Polo Grounds of Gotham and frigid Candlestick of San Francisco like a skater on ice – with unparalleled skill and a strong & accurate arm (as evidenced by 195 career outfield assists), so brilliantly displayed in “The Catch” from the ’54 Series. They introduced the Rawlings Gold Glove in 1957, an honor – much like the All-Star game – that was fashioned for Mays. He won it that first year and each of the next 11.

From the year of his first Most Valuable Player award in 1954 to ‘65 (when he won his second and last MVP), he accumulated between 113 and 119 WAR according to Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, an average of  nearly 10 wins when eight is considered MVP quality. A typical season during that 12-year span for Mays included 40 home runs, 22 thefts, 118 runs, 109 runs batted in and a slash line of .318/.392/.605, all while he dazzled with some of the most brilliant outfield play the world has ever seen.

Willie also had a flair about him, something special. His first hit in the big leagues was a clout off of none other than Warren Spahn. And as brilliant as Cobb, Speaker and, especially Mantle, were, it wouldn’t be a ball team without Willie out in center and hitting in the middle of the lineup.

RF – Babe Ruth, by Dan Szymborski of ESPN and Baseball Think Factory

It should shock nobody that playing rightfield for BPP’s All-Time Dream Team is George Herman Ruth. What kind of dream team wouldn’t have Babe Ruth, the most famous baseball player that ever lived?

If Babe Ruth weren’t a real person, Major League Baseball would need to make him up. As great a player as Ruth was, the myth surrounding the man and his accomplishments even surpass the actual ones. Thanks to the gambling scandals of the 1910s, with the Black Sox only the latest and most egregious example, baseball as a national sport had hit its nadir. People will point to the various performance-enhancing drug issues of recent years as dangerous to the sport of baseball, but these were only the equivalent of a pinhole, next to the gnawing abyss of scandal at the time. Baseball wasn’t mildly interrupted, but threatened as real sport.

Ruth couldn’t have come at a better time and baseball was lucky to have such a great ambassador at its disposal. Frank Baker may have been given the nickname “Home Run” and Ned Williamson and Roger Connor may have been the home run kings for decades, but it was Ruth that started America’s love affair with the home run. With the mushy balls replaced and spitballers designated for extinction by new rules, baseball had a new ball, a new style of play, and with Ruth, a new life.

The Babe was a character that would have had trouble in a different age. In a time of austerity, Ruth’s antics would have seemed almost decadent, his behavior boorish. In a modern age with every action on camera, Ruth’s actions wouldn’t have been dimmed by the brighter, omnipresent lights of today, but highlighted by them. Ozzie Guillen just got suspended for making a silly off-the-cuff remark about Fidel Castro. What would today’s moralists say about a player that reportedly held his manager, Miller Huggins, out the back of a moving train? Or about a player who refused to learn most of his teammates’ names and would wave his paycheck in their face to taunt them? Barry Bonds sat in a barcalounger and it became an Issue of National Importance.

The times fit a curious character such as Ruth. Relatively speaking, the 1920s were an optimistic time in America, where after the War to End All Wars and the influenza outbreak, the general mood was positive and economic growth was solid. There was the shadow on the horizon of socialism and fascist, but in the US, it generally wasn’t as large a concern as overseas. The 20s introduced jazz, talking pictures, surrealist art, the Art Deco movement, a time where heroes could be welcomed without a trace of irony or complaint of saccharine. Ruth was a character who fit the age, who gave fans what they wanted – a larger-than-life figure who could do anything he wanted on the field.

As the Great Depression started, Ruth’s decline as a player also began. In 5 years, his career was over and in just about another decade, his life ended as well, as Ruth succumbed to throat cancer in 1948, at the age of 53.

On the field, Ruth’s accomplishments still stand as impressive. 714 is still one of the most easily recognized numbers in sports, despite the later prominence of 755 and now 762. Ruth’s profile still contains a ton of “black ink” reflecting his play, 3rd in homers, 1st in slugging percentage, 2nd in on-base percentage, 3rd in walks, 4th in extra-base hits. Sabermetrics has done little to push Ruth aside, with the Babe still 1st in Wins Above Replacement at 190, nearly 20 wins better than 2nd-place. His more than 1000 innings with an ERA+ of 122 almost serve as an afterthought, but his 18 wins above replacement as a pitcher through age 24 already a third of a Hall of Fame-worthy pitching career, providing solid justification for the legend that he could’ve made Cooperstown as a pitcher as well.

People joke that Cobb could have hit home runs if it had occurred to him to do so. Babe Ruth has no “could’ve” next to his name, he really did do everything. The Sultan of Swat is an easy choice for the middle-of-order of our team.

Manager – Casey Stengel, by Graham Womack

I have a confession. Every player listed above made this team by earning the votes. I exerted little influence in the outcome, preferring to let voters work independently and come to their own decisions. One of my few exceptions to this policy was that I personally selected Casey Stengel as manager for this squad. I had an ulterior motive for doing so, which I’ll get to momentarily.

First, let me be clear and say that I think Stengel would make an ideal manager for this team. Over his 25 years as a skipper in the majors, Stengel won 1,905 games and did his best work when surrounded by talent, winning seven World Series and a Pacific Coast League championship. And while he sometimes clashed with the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, I assume Stengel would have the good humor and sense to hold his own piloting a star-studded club. Is Stengel the best manager of all-time, better than John McGraw, Earl Weaver, or Joe Torre? I don’t know, though I think the difference is academic.

That being said, I chose Stengel as manager in part because I wanted his biographer Robert Creamer to write about him here. I interviewed Creamer this winter and have kept in contact with him since. Creamer ultimately was unable to write anything for this project for personal reasons, though he recommended one of his Sports Illustrated colleagues, Walter Bingham. I contacted Bingham, and he provided some vignettes of Stengel, who he covered. Those memories can be read here.

Vote totals

P- Walter Johnson 159, Sandy Koufax 83, Pedro Martinez 72, Bob Gibson 54, Cy Young 34, Nolan Ryan 32, Greg Maddux 30, Randy Johnson 27, Satchel Paige 27, Roger Clemens 23, Tom Seaver 22, Lefty Grove 21, Christy Mathewson 19, “Choose One” 6, Babe Ruth (Write-In) 5, Bob Feller 5, Steve Carlton 5, Warren Spahn 4, Whitey Ford 2, Grover Cleveland Alexander 1, Dave Stewart (Write-In) 1, Jack Morris (Write-In) 1, Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Write-In) 1, Ron Guidry (Write-In) 1, Smoky Joe Wood (Write-In) 1, Dizzy Dean 0, Jim Palmer 0

C- Johnny Bench 276, Josh Gibson 123, Yogi Berra 85, Mike Piazza 46, Ivan Rodriguez 27, Roy Campanella 17, Carlton Fisk 15, Mickey Cochrane 10, Gary Carter 10, Thurman Munson 7, “Choose one” 6, Bill Dickey 5, Joe Mauer 4, Roger Bresnahan (Write-In) 1, Dottie from “A League of their Own” (Write-In) 1, Jorge Posada 1, Mike Scioscia 1, Ted Simmons 1, Charlie Bennett 0, Buck Ewing 0, Gabby Hartnett 0, Joe Torre 0, Deacon White 0

1B- Lou Gehrig 369, Albert Pujols 154, Jimmie Foxx 27, Pete Rose 19, Willie McCovey 12, Will Clark 10, Frank Thomas 7, Hank Greenberg 6, Harmon Killebrew 5, Cap Anson 5, Don Mattingly 4, Buck Leonard 3, Mark McGwire 3, Willie Stargell 3, Johnny Mize 2, Eddie Murray 1, Alibi Ike (Write-In 1), Stan Musial (Write-In at first base, appeared on ballot in LF) 1, George Sisler 1, Jeff Bagwell 1, Rafael Palmeiro 1, Sadaharu Oh (Write-In) 1, Bill Terry 0

2B- Rogers Hornsby 242, Joe Morgan 143, Jackie Robinson 89, Roberto Alomar 38, Ryne Sandberg 25, Nap Lajoie 22, Rod Carew 20, Eddie Collins 20, Charlie Gehringer 10, Jeff Kent 4, Robinson Cano 4, Dustin Pedroia 4, Tony Lazzeri 3, Lou Whitaker 3, Bobby Grich 2, Bobby Doerr 1, Chico Escuela (Write-In) 1, “Choose One” 1, Honus Wagner (Write-in at 2B, on ballot at SS) 1, Craig Biggio (Write-In) 1, Newt Allen (Write-In) 1, Steve Sax 1, Ross Barnes 0, Frankie Frisch 0, Frank Grant 0

3B- Mike Schmidt 379, Brooks Robinson 78, George Brett 63, Chipper Jones 22, Wade Boggs 21, Eddie Mathews 19, Pie Traynor 9, Ron Santo 7, Evan Longoria 6, Dick Allen 5, Paul Molitor 5, Alex Rodriguez (Write-In at 3B, on ballot at SS) 4, “Choose one” 4, Frank Baker 3, Graig Nettles 2, Pete Rose (Write-In at 3B, on ballot at 1B) 2, David Wright 2, Ken Boyer 1, Ryan Zimmerman 1, Scott Rolen (Write-In) 1, Ray Dandridge (Write-In) 1, Ed from 1996 Matt LeBlanc film (Write-In) 1, Ron Cey 0, Darrell Evans 0, Stan Hack 0, Ezra Sutton 0

SS- Honus Wagner 313, Alex Rodriguez 106, Cal Ripken Jr. 61, Ernie Banks 48, Ozzie Smith 34, Derek Jeter 29, Troy Tulowitzki 9, Barry Larkin 6, Robin Yount 6, Alan Trammell 4, Pee Wee Reese 4, Nomar Garciaparra 3, “Choose One” 2, Lou Boudreau 2, Omar Vizquel (Write-In) 2, Willie Wells 2, Arky Vaughan 1, Luke Appling 1, Phil Rizzuto 1, Rabbit Maranville 1, Tanner Boyle from “The Bad News Bears” (Write-In) 1, Maury Wills 0, Bill Dahlen 0

LF- Ted Williams 289, Barry Bonds 186, Stan Musial 72, Rickey Henderson 60, Carl Yastrzemski 8, Lou Brock 4, Ryan Braun 4, Ed Delahanty 3, Tim Raines 3, Al Simmons 1, Billy Williams 1, “Choose one” 1, Manny Ramirez 1, Ralph Kiner 1, Turkey Stearnes (Write-In) 1, The angel Michael from “The Great Iowa Baseball Confederacy” (Write-In) 1, Monte Irvin 0, Charley Jones 0, Charlie Keller 0, Joe Medwick 0, Minnie Minoso 0, Jim Rice 0, Zack Wheat 0

CF- Willie Mays 360, Ty Cobb 97, Mickey Mantle 73, Ken Griffey Jr. 39, Joe DiMaggio 29, Oscar Charleston 12, Cool Papa Bell 6, Tris Speaker 4, Jim Edmonds 4, Andre Dawson 3, Duke Snider 3, Josh Hamilton 2, Kenny Lofton 1, Richie Ashburn 1, Lucy from “Peanuts” (Write-In) 1, Barry Bonds (Write-In) 1, Pete Browning 0, Cesar Cedeno 0, Billy Hamilton 0, Lip Pike 0, Spottswood Poles 0, Jimmy Wynn 0

RF- Babe Ruth 433, Hank Aaron 106, Roberto Clemente 41, Joe Jackson 15, Ichiro Suzuki 7, Tony Gwynn 7, Frank Robinson 5, Dwight Evans 4, Mel Ott 3, Reggie Jackson 3, Sammy Sosa 3, Al Kaline 2, Darryl Strawberry 2, Dave Winfield 1, Jose Canseco 1, Les Nessman from “WKRP” (Write-In) 1, Paul Waner 1, The words “Write-In” 1, Elmer Flick 0, Harry Heilmann 0, King Kelly 0, Roger Maris 0

The best of the rest, by Adam Darowski of The Hall of wWAR

Because honoring nine players isn’t enough, let’s take a look at the runners-up and other interesting finishes in the balloting.

Behind the plate, the runner-up wasn’t actually a Major Leaguer. Josh Gibson had the strongest support (by far) of all Negro League stars. Baseball-Reference’s newly released Negro League statistics confirm the legends we’ve been hearing about Gibson for decades. His OPS is listed at 1.026, but it could easily be higher (for example, he is credited with one walk combined in 1931, 1938, 1943—likely the result of incomplete data).

At first base, the runner up was Albert Pujols, the leading vote-getter among active players. Is Pujols deserving of such a ranking yet? He probably is. Lou Gehrig leads all first basemen in WAR with 118.4. Between Gehrig and Pujols are just Cap Anson (99.5) and Jimmie Foxx (94.1). Pujols isn’t far behind with 89.0. Now consider that Pujols is only in his age 32 season and just started a 10-year contract. In his late 30s, he might be preparing to pass Gehrig.

At second, Jackie Robinson finished third behind Rogers Hornsby and Joe Morgan. Those Jackie Robinson votes were not just symbolic ones. Hornsby and Morgan both edge Robinson in WAR (as do several other second basemen). But remember, Robinson only played ten years and didn’t start his career until age 28 (when his prime was likely half over). The fact is, on a rate basis Morgan was worth 6.4 WAR per 700 plate appearances while Robinson was worth 7.6. Hornsby finishes first by both rate and total value. But Robinson is far from a stretch at number two.

Brooks Robinson made an impressive showing on the third base list, finishing behind only behind Mike Schmidt. Eddie Mathews, second all time in WAR among third basemen, managed just 19 votes. Of course, when Schmidt dominates the voting like he did (he finished second to Ruth in voting percentage), you get some great players with low totals, like Wade Boggs with 21.

Alex Rodriguez came in second In the shortstop voting and also finished second in total votes among active players. Sometime in 2013, Rodriguez’s games played at third base will surpass his games played at shortstop. He’ll join Robin Yount and Ernie Banks as Hall of Famers who started at short (and contributed the majority of their career value there) but finished with more time at another position.

In left field, voters went with the pure hitting ability of Ted Williams over the all-around play (and polarizing personality) of Barry Bonds. They were followed by Stan Musial and Rickey Henderson as each of the position’s 110 WAR players finished in the Top 4.

Center field was the position I watched for with the most anticipation. Think of the names—Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Tris Speaker, Joe DiMaggio, Ken Griffey, Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, and more. In perhaps the most impressive showing of the whole project, Mays dominated with 360 votes. Tris Speaker—he of 113 WAR and the 10th best weighted WAR of all time at any position—managed just four votes. That’s how tough center field votes were to get.

In right field, Babe Ruth was the top vote getter of the entire project, limiting the incredible Hank Aaron to 106 votes. The pitcher vote was the opposite, as Walter Johnson led the way with just 25% of the vote. After the Big Train, voters opted for hurlers who flamed out, but burned brightly while in their primes—Sandy Koufax and Pedro Martinez. Next was Bob Gibson, followed by an eclectic group of pitchers separated by just eleven votes: Cy Young, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Satchel Paige, and Roger Clemens. Clemens, second all time in pitcher WAR, took an obvious hit because of his recent issues.

The top player, by WAR, who failed to receive a single vote was pitcher Kid Nichols. The top modern pitcher was Phil Niekro. Among position players, the top non-vote getter was George Davis, who continues to be criminally underrated (even after being inducted into the Hall of Fame). The top modern (post-WWII) position player without a vote was Jim Thome.

A note on the absence of black players

With today being the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, it may deserve some mention that eight of the nine players on this team are white. Creamer certainly noticed as much when I invited him to contribute something here. Creamer couldn’t participate in this project for personal reasons, though he noted:

If I’m telling the cold truth, I don’t feel as bad as I would have if the all-star selection had included more than one black player.  I mean, there have been blacks in the bigs for 66 seasons, and whites-only for 71 seaaons before Jackie.  Yet whites prevail eight to one?  Come on.

It could be a fluke, since non-white players made a stand at almost every position on the ballot. It’s not as if voters here forgot Pedro Martinez or Joe Morgan or Hank Aaron. All the same, the email motivated me to reach out to Dr. Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City to see if there was something deeper at work.

I asked Kendrick if this issue had come up in all-time dream projects before. Kendrick told me people had a tendency to vote for players they knew about or had seen play. It’s difficult to make comparisons, he added, since essentially two major leagues were running prior to integration. I asked him if the incomplete history of Negro League stats was a factor. He said it could leave some doubt for any voter who relies solely on stats.

Kendrick said there was validity behind the numbers, though, that people who played against Josh Gibson, for instance, could attest to his skill. “Great athletes appreciate other great athletes,” Kendrick said. “And the only way you can appreciate how good you are is competing against the best of the best.”

Donors

This project wasn’t just about honoring a bunch of old baseball players. We’ve also been raising money through donations for 826 Valencia, a non-profit that teaches journalism to kids. I set a goal of raising $3,000. We’ve raised about half of that as of press time, and if everyone who reads this post donates $1, we’ll shatter the goal. I’ll list the names in this post of everyone who donates so much as one cent. Every bit helps. Donations can be made here.

Here are the Early Donors, people who donated before press time: myself, Adam Darowski, Albert Lang, Alex Putterman, Bill Miller, Brendan Bingham, Carol Daley, Chip Buck, Dave England, David Wiers, Diane Firstman, hldomingue, Jena Yamada, Joe Guzzardi, Joe McMackin, Julian Levine, Jacob P., Jacob Peterson, Michael Clair, Peter Hartlaub, Praxspop, Scott Willis, Stacey Gotsulias, Victor Dadras, Ryan Frates, Wayne Horiuchi, The Baseball Idiot, Tom, as well as four anonymous donors

More donors: Wendy Thurm, John V, Scott Candage, Andy Wood, Mighty Flynn, NeilinNevada, Mark Aubrey, @athomeplate1, Sean Palmateer, two anonymous donors [YOUR NAME HERE-- names will be added as soon as possible as donations come in]

To donate, visit the page I set up at FirstGiving.com.

Voters

In all, we received 636 votes for this project. A number of people also made donations for charity. Not everyone gave their full name, though the ones I knew are listed below, alphabetized by first name.

Baseball figures and others: Bill Deane, former head of research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame; Dr. Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro League Baseball Museum; Christina Kahrl of ESPN; Dan Evans, former general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers; Dan Dibley of KGMZ 95.7 The Game; Josh Wilker, author of Cardboard Gods and the related blog; Danny Peary, co-author of Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero; Len Berman, sportscaster and author of The 25 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time; Joe Williams, chair of the Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legends Project, Nineteenth Century Committee, Society for American Baseball Research; Mark Kreidler of ESPN and KGMZ 95.7 The Game; Mark Simon of ESPN New York; Matt Walbeck, former MLB catcher; Matt Welch, editor of Reason Magazine; Rob Neyer, editor of Baseball Nation; Peter Hartlaub, pop culture critic and Big Event blogger for the San Francisco Chronicle; Steve Berthiaume, host of “Baseball Tonight” on ESPN

Bloggers, [A-C]: Myself, Aaron Somers of Blogging From The Bleachers and District on Deck, Adam Darowski of the Hall of wWAR, Albert Lang of h2h Corner, Alex Flores of alexflores.com, Alex Putterman of this website, Andrea Reiher of Zap2it, Andrew of Enlightened Sports Fan, Andrew Martin of The Baseball Historian, Andy of High Heat Stats,  Arne Christensen of Misc. Baseball, Bill of The Platoon Advantage, Bobby Aguilera of Baseball Reality TourBox Score Haiku, Brendan Bingham of this website, Brian Moynahan of Bus Leagues Baseball, Bruce Markusen of The Hardball Times, Bryan O’Connor of Replacement Level Baseball Blog, Charles Beatley of Andre Dawson, Chip Buck of Fire Brand of the American League

Bloggers, [D-G]: Dan McCloskey  of Left Field, Dan Day of The Ball Caps Blog, Daniel Aubain of Full Spectrum Baseball, Daniel Shoptaw of Cardinal70.com, Daniel Stern of National League Theory, Darien Sumner of The Dord of Darien, Dave England of Aerys Sports, David Pinto of Baseball Musings, David Spencer of Squirrels Baseball, Diane Firstman of Value Over Replacement GritDobberBaseball.com, Domenic Lanza of The Yankee Analysts, Doug Bird of this website, Drew of The Crazy (Good) Eights85% Sports, Ernie Nackord of Where Have You Gone Joe?, Geo of …..The Bronx Bomber

Bloggers, [J-P]: Jacob Peterson of JunkStats, Jake Bryan of Baseball Brains Blog, James Smyth of James Smyth, Jason Marlo of sidepoints.com, Jeff Parker of Royally Speaking, Jeff Polman of Mysteryball ’58, Jimmy Leiderman of The New York Clipper, Jimmy of A Second Time through the Order, Joe Guzzardi of this website, Joe McMackin of SportsBlogNet, John Autin of High Heat Stats, John Leary of Green Line Outfit, Jonathan Mitchell of MLB Dirt, Julian Levine of Giants Nirvana, Ken Parker of parkerfilms.net, Kevin Graham of Baseball Revisited, Larry Granillo of Wezen Ball, Lewie Pollis of Wahoo’s on First, Mark A of Mark’s Ephemera, Matt Collins of New England Sports News Blog, Matt Imbrogno of The Yankee Analysts, Matt Weiner of Bucs Dugout, Michael Clair of Old Time Family Baseball, Michael Lortz of Bus Leagues Baseball, Michel Lim of Baseballs Deep, Mike Gianella of Roto Think Tank, Mike Luery of Baseball Between Us, Nick Tavares of nicktavares.com, Nick of Pitchers Hit Eighth, Pat Adair of Dropped Strike Three, Patrick Languzzi of Call to the Hall, Paul Dylan of One for Five, Peter Schiller of Baseball Reflections, P.J. Brown of Roaming The SidelinesPunky G

Bloggers, [R-Z]: Ran Shulman of Major League Truth, Ron Foreman of Seamheads, Ronni Redmond of Garlicfriesandbaseball, Rory Paap of Bay City Ball, Ryan McCrystal of Wahoo’s Warriors, Ryan Sendek of Analysis around the Horn, Satchel Price of Beyond the Box Score, Shawn Weaver of Cincinnati Reds Blog, Silver King, Sky Kalkman of the Hall of Very Good ebook, Stacey Gotsulias of Aerys Sports, Steve Keane of Kranepool Society, Steven Nichols of New England Sports News Blog, Taylor of MLBeef, Ted Paff of Customer LobbyThe Egotists ClubThe Nutball Gazette, Tom Thrash of He Knew He Was RightWarehouse Worthy, William Booth of Technical Slip, William Miller of The On Deck Circle, William Juliano of The Captain’s Blog, William Tasker of The Flagrant Fan

Readers, [A-G]: Aaron Greenberg, Abraham Leiderman, Adam Hardy, Alan Knox, Alex Johnson, Allen Zelt, Alvy Singer, Andrew Johnson, Andrew Milner, Angus Danielson, Armand Mathurin, Barry Melnick, Bart Silberman, Beau Blanchard, Ben Dobbs, Bill Bell, Bill Doucet, Bill Rubinstein, Bob Berman, Bob Brichetto, Bob Rittner, Bob Sohm, Bob Finn, Brad Howerter, Brandon Erickson, Brendan Sullivan, Brett Beeching, Brian Connolly, Brian McArdle, Brian Stuart, Bryan Grosnick, Buddy Carhart, Carol Daley, Cecil Patrick, Chad Blauwkamp, Charles Bauer, Charles Nelson, Charlie Wilson, Chris Ferreira, Chris Heywood, Chuck Taylor, Colby King, Cory Mays, Craig Cornell, Dale Mathurin, Dalton Mack, Dan Foster, Dan O’Connor, Daniel Keck, Danny Torres, Darius Walker, Dave Bristol, Dave Clemons, Dave Foody, Dave Mowers, David James, David Lick, David Lawrence Reed, Dean Hoke, Devin Hedberg, Dick Whitman, Dillon Davis, Don Groves, Ed Lounello, Ed White, Elaine Allen, Eric Brem, Ernest A. Nagy, Farrell Quinlan, Felicia, Frank Ozbun, Fred Collignon, Fred Flagg, Gabriel Schechter, Gary Bateman, Gary Robinson, Gary Stanley, George Haloulakos, George Kurtz, Gregg Volz, Gregg Weiss, Gus Johnson

Readers, [H-K]: Hal Ensrud. Hillel Spielman, Hugh Garretson, Ian Price, Isaac Pingree, Jake Weber, James Beard, Jan Raymond, Jan Rinnooi, Jason Chesshir, Jason Lukehart, Jason Staley, Jason Sterlacci, Jay Nish, Jeff Fleishman, Jeff Davis III, Jeffrey Crohn, Jeffrey Hunter, Jeffrey Paternostro, Jena Yamada, Jim Doyle, Jim Imhoff, JJ Gilbert, Joe Kendall, Joe Smith, Joel Hammerman, Joel Quintanilla, Joel Solis, John Franco, John League, John Robbins, John Robertson, Jonah Sharris, Jonas Hanna, Jonathan Kahan, Jordan Blough, Joseph Passeri, Josh Drew, Josh Margolis, Joshua Mitchell, Justin Ciccotelli, Ken Fenster,  Kevin Shanahan, Kim B. Andres

Readers, [L-P]: Lawrence Azrin, Lee Temanson, Lee Domingue, Lew Berman, Liz Roscher, Lynn Burton, Mark Steven Traub, Matt Aschaffenburg, Matt Davidson,  Matt Stevens, Matt Wilks, Matthew Bultitude, Michael Cook, Michael Farmer, Michael Martin, Michael Moritz, Mike Cravens, Mike Denton. Mike Jones, Mike Lodge, Mike Meares, Mike Mohner, Mike Robinson, Mike Stone, Mike Vance, Nathan Canby, Nathan Horwitz, Nick Sorbello, Owen Wilson, Pat Crowe, Patrick Bowen, Patrick Mackin, Paul Gardner, Paul Hirsch, Phil Haberkorn

Readers, [R-Z]: Richard Coughlin, Richard Nicholson, Rick Walden, Rob Harrison, Robert Allen, Robert Ross, Robert Sawyer, Russ Prentice, Ryan Frates, Scott Taylor, Sean Lahman, Spencer Lamm, Stan Kanter, Stefano Micolitti, Stephen Loftus, Steve Ambrozat, Steve Braccini, Steve Brown, Steve Dakota, Steve Oppenheim, Steven Hobble,  Taylor Owen, Ted Mosby, Ted Rodgers, Tim Deale, Tim Murtaugh, Tim Newey, Tom Bradley, Tom DeCenso, Tom Hanrahan, Tom Howell, Tom Reagan, Travis Dant, Troy Davis, Victor Dadras, Vinnie, Wade Boutilier, Wayne Horiuchi, Whitey Holt, William Perry, Zubin Sumariwalla

Walter Bingham remembers Casey Stengel

Editor’s note: The following was written by longtime Sports Illustrated writer Walter Bingham, who was gracious enough to share a few vignettes for this website about one of baseball’s most legendary managers.

I was attending the winter baseball meetings in Washington D.C. back in, maybe 1957 or ’58. A colleague and I had decided to call it an evening when we saw several men standing around a couch just off the hotel lobby. Sitting there was Casey and someone else, a foil in effect, because Casey was doing all the talking. We joined the group, listening to Stengel ramble on, pretending to be talking only to his couch-neighbor, but knowing he had an audience.

After a half hour of this, entertaining though it was, it really was time to turn in. Which we did. The next morning, quite early, I rose, dressed and took the elevator to the lobby, looking for breakfast. To my astonishment, there was Stengel talking with someone else–no audience this time. No, he had not been there all night, or what was left of it. He had changed clothes, so presumably he had been to his room, presumably slept and yet had beaten me downstairs. Proof the man had stamina.

One evening at Yankee Stadium, I was watching batting practice, leaning on the metal framework of the cage. I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. It was Casey. What he said, if anything, I don’t recall, but he pulled at the netting to show me that it could more than reach my nose. That is, a foul tip by the better, should it come directly back at me, would not be impeded by the netting, leading to a broken nose. Proof the man had heart.

I was sitting in the Yankee dugout before a game. Stengel was there, surrounded by maybe four New York beat writers. I was considerably outside the ring, but certainly able to hear what Casey was saying. He was commenting on a throw an outfielder had made the night before.

The situation on the field was this: runners on second and third, no one out, two-run lead for the team on the field. The batter hit a fly ball to short right field. The outfielder caught the ball and fired to the plate, but the throw was slightly off line and the runner scored.The man on second advanced to third.

I was somewhat removed down the dugout bench from Stengel and the group of New York reporters around him, a kibitizer. But I could hear Stengel, who always spoke with a loud growl and when he asked “his guys” where the right fielder should have thrown, I just blurted out “third base” without thinking. The startled look on Stengel’s face was memorable, hearing the answer come from somehwere other than the group around him. I’m sure he didn’t even realize I was there.

I once told Casey something he didn’t know. In 1958, Stan Musial got his 3,000th hit and I was asked to write a “Highlight”, about a 500 word sidebar to whatevewr the main baseball story was that week. In researching Musial’s beginnings, I discovered that his first hit, a double, had come against the Boston Braves in 1942. The Braves were managed by Casey. So up to the stadium I went and asked him if he realized this. He did not, but the information obviously delighted him. He then spent the next five minutes talking about Musial, who of course he had soon become aware of, even if he didn’t remember hit #1.

826 Valencia and the BPP All-Time Dream Project need your support

Back in March, I announced that the BPP All-Time Dream Project would be raising $3,000 by April 15 for 826 Valencia, a San Francisco-based non-profit that teaches journalism to kids. With results of the project scheduled to go live on Sunday, support is still needed.

Thus far, people have donated $285. At this point, I don’t expect to have $3,000 raised by the time the post goes live Sunday morning, though I assume if we’re even halfway there, I can get readers to donate the rest. I expect 3,000 to 5,000 people to read the post in the first 24 hours, and if every reader donates a dollar, we’d shatter the fundraising goal.

To donate, go here.

For what it’s worth, I know the results of the project are worth something. I’ve got an All Star team of writers and an illustrator contributing content. I’m excited to get to publish the results and am confident it will be one of the best posts in the history of this website.

So here’s what I’d like today: If you’re reading, and you’ve planned to donate, please do so. Even a dollar or two makes a difference. I could also use retweets and help getting the word out about what I’m doing.

In return, I can offer the following. First off, I’m going to list the names in the results post of everyone who donates, even if it’s one cent. Everyone who donates before the post goes live will be listed as “Early Donors”. I’ll also provide a link to anyone who writes an original post on my efforts. It should be a valuable link for SEO purposes.

Donations can be made directly at the FirstGiving page I’ve set up, or by sending in a check. I’d also be happy to post a donation on anyone’s behalf if they prefer PayPal, since FirstGiving doesn’t take that. Please feel free to email me at thewomack@gmail.com with questions or feedback.

We have a chance, collectively, to make a difference. Let’s do some good.

To donate, go here.

Any player/Any era: Artie Wilson

What he did: Wilson’s an answer to a trivia question as the last player to hit .400 with his .402 season for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League in 1948. He also mentored a young Willie Mays, was written of as the best black shortstop of the 1940s, and was a four-time batting champion and Hall of Famer in the Pacific Coast League. Wilson, who died in 2010 at age 90, could have been something else, too: the first black player for the New York Yankees.

Era he might have thrived in: Former Yankee PR director and longtime baseball writer Marty Appel has a history on the club, Pinstripe Empire due out on May 8. The following is excerpted:

In 1948, the New York Football Yankees of the All American Conference, owned by Dan Topping, signed the black All-American, Buddy Young. In February 1949, the “Baseball Yankees” made a decision to enter the Negro League market, and announced the signing of both infielder Artie Wilson of the Birmingham Black Barons, (who was missing a finger on his throwing hand), and the dark-skinned Puerto Rican outfielder Luis Marquez of the Homestead Grays. The deals proved to be complicated; Cleveland also claimed to have signed them both, and when the deals were reviewed by Commissioner Chandler, Wilson was awarded to New York, and Marquez was sent to Cleveland.

But Wilson didn’t want to take the pay cut the Yankees were offering him to play for Newark, and he wanted a piece of the purchase price as well. So five days later he was sold to the Indians organization after all. In his place, the Yanks signed Frank Austin, a Panamanian shortstop, from the Philadelphia Stars. So who was the first black player in the Yankees organization? Both Austin and Marquez started the season with Newark in ’49 and share the distinction, but both were out of the organization by May. Only Marquez would see brief Major League action some years later.

It took until 1955 for the Yankees to field a black player, Elston Howard, New York among the last clubs to integrate. Wilson, for his part, barely played in the majors, 19 games with the New York Giants in 1951, and one can only wonder what might have been. Wilson’s departure from the Yankees may have been due to a combination of greed, racism, and Phil Rizzuto sharing his position, though Wilson may have thrived in pinstripes.

Why: Perhaps the Yankees weren’t the most bigoted franchise of their era. The Boston Red Sox passed on Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. The Pittsburgh Pirates never responded to a sportswriter’s cable in 1937 suggesting the team pick up Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, and Cool Papa Bell. Still, the Yankees weren’t much better, if at all, and their reticence to sign black players had a lasting effect on their fortunes.

Red Smith wrote upon Ed Barrow’s death in 1953 that the Yankee general manager could push a button on his desk and know within five minutes what a prospect in Kansas had eaten that morning. The same organization missed a chance to sign Mays, David Halberstam wrote in Summer of ’49, after a Southern-born scout reported he couldn’t hit a curve ball. The Yankees also kept Vic Power in Triple-A, watching him hit .331 in 1952 and .349 in 1953 before they traded him to the Athletics, purportedly because he liked to date white women. Power is considered one of the best defensive first basemen in baseball history. In his place, the Yankees went for much of the ’50s with Moose Skowron, a fielder so inept he was eventually sent to Arthur Murray Dance School to refine his footwork.

Halberstam wrote:

The Yankees thought of themselves as the elite team of baseball. They felt they did not need black players (as the Dodgers, a poorer cousin in Brooklyn, did) because their teams were already so good, their farm system so well stocked, and their overall operation so profitable. The whites-only policy reflected the attitudes of men, born around or before the turn of the century, who felt the use of black players tainted their operation… They would, management believed, draw black fans, who would in turn scare away the good middle-class white fans. When the question of blacks, or Negroes, as they were then called, arose, the Yankee answer was that they would sign one when they found one worthy of being a Yankee.

With that attitude, the Yankees eventually went through a moribund stretch from the late ’60s to mid ’70s. With Power at first, Mays alongside Mickey Mantle in the outfield, Wilson somewhere in the infield, and perhaps other black stars in tow, one can only wonder. Racial diversity was a hallmark of so many teams that shined as the Yankees dimmed.

Might Wilson have been an upgrade over Rizzuto? Perhaps. Rizzuto is a Hall of Famer and helped anchor the Yankees through five straight championships from 1949 to 1953. He ranks among the worst shortstops in Cooperstown, though, hitting .273 with an OPS+ of 93 and 41.8 WAR. Negro League Baseball Museum president Dr. Bob Kendrick told me Wilson hit better, had a stronger arm and better range than Rizzuto. I’d venture Wilson might have excelled as a lefty batter in Yankee Stadium and had the speed to fly around the bases when his teammates cranked balls into the broad power alley in left-center.

We’ll never know, and with the 65th anniversary of Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers coming Sunday, that’s a shame.

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Any player/Any era is a Thursday series that looks at how a player might have done in a different era than the one he played in.

Others Negro League veterans in this series: Jackie Robinson, Josh GibsonMonte IrvinSatchel Paige

The Eternal Promise of Opening Day

Editor’s note: This originally ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on April 1.

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Every spring, the ritual repeats itself. As major league baseball teams break camp, managers report that their athletes have never been in better condition, predict that rookies will shine, vow that last year’s underperforming veterans will bounce back and declare that the starting pitching will surprise the harshest critics.

During the summer, the truth will out. Since the turn of the 20th century, when baseball’s modern era dawned, the Pittsburgh Pirates have scaled the highest peaks and plumbed the lowest depths. In 1902, as he departed Hot Springs, Arkansas en route to Pittsburgh, manager Fred Clarke called his squad the best ever assembled. Clarke had good reason for optimism. His team had five returning .300 hitters including the incomparable Honus Wagner and Clarke who, in addition to his managing duties, patrolled left field. The Pirates rewarded Clarke with an astonishing 103-36 record and ran away with the National League title by 27.5 games.

In 1952, however, skipper Billy Meyer’s dreams were dashed early and often. The 13 Pirates’ rookies on the opening day roster included four teenagers. Collectively, they failed and were soon forever gone from baseball. Future Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner turned in one of his worst seasons. Kiner lost sixty points off his batting average and slugged five fewer home runs than the preceding season.

The 1952 Pirates were among the worst teams ever to don a uniform. When late September mercifully rolled around, only small handfuls showed up at Forbes Field to watch the 42-112 Corsairs play out the string.

Four decades later, Jim Leyland put on a happy pre-season face. His Bucs had captured division titles in 1990 and 1991. But Leyland knew he would miss his best hitter, Bobby Bonilla, a free agent signed by the New York Mets and his only 20-game winner, John Smiley, traded to the Minnesota Twins. Of all the things that he might have anticipated though, Leyland in his wildest imagination couldn’t have envisioned the gut-wrenching seventh League Championship Series game against the Atlanta Braves that Pirates fans will carry to their graves.

The Pirates, who had battled back from a 3-1 series deficit, held a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth. To the uninitiated, being three outs away from a World Series berth with a two run lead might seem secure. But in baseball, there are many ways to snatch defeat from victory’s jaws. If old Fred Clarke were still around, he could have reminded Bucco backers about an incredible 1901 game when the Cleveland Blues scored nine times with no outs to beat the Washington Senators, 14-13.

Watching from my California home and slumping further into my sofa with each pitch, here’s what I saw unfold in Fulton County Stadium.

The Braves immediately loaded the bases. Doug Drabek surrendered a lead off double, an infield error and walked former Pirates Sid Bream. Dark clouds gathered. Every formula for baseball disaster includes walks and errors.

Exit Drabek; enter Stan Belinda. A sacrifice fly scored one and another walk reloaded the bases. When an infield pop up produced the second Braves’ out, it looked like the Pirates would escape.

But pinch hitter Francisco Cabrera, the last Braves’ position player and a substitute so inconsequential that he batted only ten times during the season, thrust the final dagger into the Pirates. Cabrera singled; two more runs scored. Final: Braves 3-Pirates 2. For the third consecutive year, the Pirates failed to reach the Fall Classic.

From the bullpen, catcher Don Slaught and pitcher Bob Walk’s hearts fell when they saw Bream slide in just under Barry Bond’s throw. More than 2,500 miles away in my living room, I shared their pain. Watching in what he described as “disbelief,” Walk said he wanted to call time out as Bream rounded third but he knew that was impossible. Added Walk, “For two weeks, I tossed and turned. I couldn’t sleep thinking about the lost opportunity.” Slaught called Cabrera’s winning hit and the shattered Pirates’ dreams, “A killer.”

Slaught had played an essential role in the Pirates’ climb to first place. Not only was Slaught a solid defensive catcher and clutch hitter but he also became rookie Tim Wakefield’s personal receiver. Wakefield and his befuddling knuckleball burst onto the Three Rivers scene in late July to propel the Pirates to the pennant. Wakefield rolled up an 8-1 record before pitching two complete game victories against the Braves.

This winter Wakefield retired from the Boston Red Sox. From the 1992 Pirates only pitcher Miguel Batista, a Mets’ non-roster invitee, is still active.

As the 2012 season begins, Pirates fans wonder if this will be the year that the team reaches .500. Few need reminding that 1992 was the last time the Pirates broke even.

Like Clarke, Meyer, Leyland and his other 25 predecessors, Clint Hurdle likes what he sees. When asked to evaluate the Pirates’ spring, Hurdle described it as, “Just like all doctor’s surgeries—successful.”

Hurdle pointed to the Pirates’ depth and greater experience as its main strengths. Even with A.J. Burnett out for six weeks, Hurdle anticipates improved pitching and better years from his position players including the new long-term Pirates Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen.

Through last July, the Pirates were baseball’s most exciting story. Although the team fell off in the second half, Hurdle thinks losing taught them the invaluable lesson of how to “finish—plays, innings, games and seasons.”

Because of Hurdle’s inspirational leadership, Pirates’ fans became believers again and basked in the Bucs’ brief but heady success. PNC Park sold out 17 times.

Baseball, the game of hope that links the past to the present, began anew on April 5.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Jeff Kent

Claim to Fame: Kent played for six teams over 17 seasons in the Major Leagues, bringing a big bat and a bad attitude with him on every stop. With the Mets, Kent was criticized for his refusal of hazing rituals and short-temper. In San Francisco he repeatedly butted heads with Barry Bonds (although Barry would almost certainly win any head-butting competition), famously exchanging shoves with the leftfielder in 2002. This after Kent had broken his wrist popping wheelies on a motorcycle and lied about it, much to the displeasure of the Giants organization. Years later, with the Dodgers, Kent’s criticisms of LA’s young players caused James Loney to announce that “Jeff Kent is not our leader,” before, in a separate incident, the second baseman opined that legendary Dodgers play-by-play man Vin Scully “talks too much.” Milton Bradley would accuse Kent of not knowing “how to deal with African-American people,” and a $15,000 donation to backers of California’s ban on gay marriage suggests that in addition to being an alleged racist, Kent wasn’t too fond of gay people.

But, as Yahoo! Sports’s David Brown wrote upon Kent’s retirement in January 2009, “The consensus on Jeff Kent seems to be, ‘That jerk sure could hit!’ ” Arguably the best offensive second baseman since Rogers Hornsby, Kent hit more career home runs than anyone ever at that position. And among second basemen with at least 9,000 plate appearances there, he’s second all-time in slugging percentage, third in OPS, eighth in wOBA, and sixth in wRC+ (frustratingly, I can’t find a way on baseball-reference.com to organize by position, so these are fangraphs.com stats; wRC+ is essentially equivalent to OPS+).

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Kent last played in 2008, meaning he will be eligible for BBWAA Hall of Fame voting in 2013.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Kent’s career WAR of 59.4 puts him right along the Hall of Fame fault line. Many players below that figure have been inducted, but a handful above it still wait for a call. Lou Whitaker, Willie Randolph, and Bobby Grich are the only non-Hall of Fame second basemen to have contributed more WAR than Kent, while Bobby Doerr, Johnny Evers, Nellie Fox, Billy Herman, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Mazeroski, Bid McPhee, Joe Gordon, and Red Schoendienst are all in Cooperstown with fewer WAR.

Yet Kent’s body of work might be better than all 12 of those fellow-second basemen. His 2000 National League MVP award is one of only nine BBWAA MVPs ever awarded to a second basemen, and of those listed above, either in the Hall or out of it, only Fox owns one (although Evers won the Chalmers Award in 1914, the equivalent of an MVP). Offensively, Kent has few peers among the borderline HOF group; of the aforemention dozen, only Grich tops Kent in OPS+, and only Grich and Lazzeri lead Kent in wRC+. And for those who look to peak performance to gauge Hall of Fame-worthiness, behold Kent’s five-year stretch between 1998 and 2002, when he averaged 29 home runs and 5.7 WAR while posting a .307/.378/.548 slash line and a 142 OPS+.

Because voters too often cast their votes based on counting stats, expect many to note Kent’s 377 home runs from a second baseman and induct him on the second or third ballot. Just know that when they do, he’ll deserve it, curmudgeon or not.

New ballpark, shutout pitching and more this opening weekend

Baseball for real is finally back and the failures or success stories of spring training are a thing of the past for the fans anyway. I made it through the confusion of three opening days this season and managed to not miss the Marlins first regular season game.  I spent most of the week hunting through various schedules to find out when baseball was actually going to begin for real.

The “opening” in Japan seemed nothing short of silly and I almost missed the Wednesday Marlins game.  After much research I discovered late that afternoon that this game actually counted.  The following day (Thursday) seemed to be the actual opening day.  Is the average baseball fan such as myself supposed to be this confused?  Things used to be a lot simpler when opening day began April 1 or 2 and in Cincinnati.  But I won’t go into my well documented opinions on Bud Selig.  Suffice it to say that the Marlins opener featured the usual confusing nonsense from the commissioner during two innings which saw all three announcers fawn and ogle over his sound bite observations on the state of baseball.

The new Miami ballpark is quite impressive. Except for that gawdy and downright ugly thing past the left centre field wall.  Apparently it lights up and dolphins dance and God knows what else when a Marlins player hits a home run.  I was grateful that none did that night.  This was also only a one game series and then Miami traveled to Cincinnati. Doesn’t make any sense to me either. This team is trying to build up fan interest.  Increased fan interest has to be built and sustained over a period of time. One game and hit the road doesn’t seem to be the way to do it. We shall see if the baseball fans of Miami come out to see this greatly improved team in a beautiful new ballpark.

Opening day in Pittsburgh simply wasn’t fair.  I realize that Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee have to face somebody in their first start but a team which is going nowhere again this season shouldn’t have to begin the season with the very real possibility of beginning 0-2. Halladay was his usual unhittable self on Thursday and as many teams have found out over the career of Halladay, no fun day in the batter’s box.  Pittsburgh was lucky to get the two hits they did. Oddly enough, Halladay didn’t pitch a complete game. He only pitched eight innings of two hit shutout baseball.  Pittsburgh had to be satisfied with that for the day.  They won game two however.  That’s why they play the game on the field.

The St. Louis Cardinals don’t seem to be missing Albert Pujols all that much.  At least in the early going of the 2012 baseball season. That’s because 2011 playoff and World Series hero David Freese continues to carry the team.  Freese in previous seasons was held back only because of injuries. Certainly the Cardinals need Carlos Beltran to stay healthy and Lance Berkman to repeat his surprising season of last year and need Chris Carpenter to return and Adam Wainwright to come back. But thus far, they seem like a very solid and balanced team.

Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg showed no ill effects from his rotator cuff surgery and the Chicago Cubs blew another game.

Jon Lester and Justin Verlander locked up for a great pitching duel which saw the debut of Prince Fielder and Boston manager Bobby Valentine.

Clayton Kershaw left the Los Angeles Dodger opener after only four innings, apparently with the flu and Tim Lincecum gave up three runs, including two long home runs in his first start.

Oh yeah, one more thing.  Toronto and Cleveland loved opening day so much that they went a record 16 innings to finish it.  Then they went 12 innings the next day.  The batboys might have to pitch game three or four at this rate.

The first couple of games are under our belt. Life makes sense again.

Any Player/Any Era: Al Rosen

What He Did: If you don’t know Al Rosen, it’s because his career was just a smidge away from absolute greatness.

Because of his military background, the War and some fluky poor performances in small samples from 1947-1949, Rosen didn’t get a full time gig until 1950. He was 26.

He had an immediate impact, leading the league with 37 HRs and setting a rookie record for HRs in the process. Rosen also walked a cool 100 times and had 159 hits. To put this in perspective, in just four of his seasons did Tony Gwynn reach base by walk and hit more than 159 times.

While there was a slight sophomore slump for Rosen in 1951, he finished fifth in RBIs (102), extra-base hits (55), and walks (85).

In 1953, Rosen hit 43 HRs, knocked in 145 and had a .336 average. He led the league in HRs, RBIs, SLG, OPS, OPS+, total bases and runs. Unfortunately, Mickey Vernon batted .337 that season, narrowly keeping Rosen from the Triple Crown. Rosen went 3-5 on the season’s final day, just missing out. That said, those RBIs are the 37th most by a righty in a season in baseball history, and he was rightly unanimously voted the MVP.

From 1950 – 1956 Rosen posted a .287/.386/.500 line and averaged 27 HRs a season. During that span, his 39.2 fWAR was the eighth best behind Stan Musial, Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Larry Doby, Jackie Robinson and Richie Ashburn. His mark was actually ahead of the immortal Ted Williams.

At his height, Rosen was a giant, just ask Casey Stengel: “That young feller. That feller’s a ball player. He’ll give you the works every time. Gets all the hits, gives you the hard tag in the field. That feller’s a real competitor, you bet your sweet curse life.”

Unfortunately, back problems and leg injuries forced Rosen to retire at 32 in 1956. Rosen finished with a .285/.384/.495 line with 192 HRs in 4,374 plate appearances. Of players with at least 4,000 plate appearances, Rosen’s HR:AB rate is in the top 100.

Oddly, Rosen is one of three players to retire with fewer than 200 HRs, but who hit 40 in a season (Jim Gentile and Davey Johnson are the others). He is also one of 32 players to have a 40 HR and 200 hit season. As a third baseman, the 43 dingers he hit during the magical 1953 season are tied with Matt Williams (more on him later) for the 10th most in a season.

Era he might have thrived in: Rosen is one of the great “what if” players, i.e., what if he played during a time when there wasn’t a World War, what if he stayed healthy, what if people fully understood how his minor league numbers would translate over a large sample in the majors. For those reasons, Rosen would have clearly thrived in the mid- to late-1990s. With modern medicine and analytics, Rosen’s career could have been years longer and Rosen might be in the Hall of Fame. For many reasons, I’m putting Rosen on the late ‘90s Cleveland Indians.

Why: Put Rosen on the 1996 Cleveland Indians and he hits .310/.412/.537. His 1953 season would produce 51 HRs, 184 RBIs and a .365/.453/.666 line from a third baseman.

While the numbers would be ridiculous, Rosen would have a real impact on those Indians teams. In 1996, the Indians could have traded Eddie Murray earlier to the Orioles, slid Julio Franco to DH and Jim Thome to first base and greatly enhanced the offense. In addition, Rosen’s presence in 1996 would have stopped the organization from giving a ton of talent for an aging Matt Williams. Instead of needing someone to man the hot corner, Rosen would have enabled the Indians to keep Jeff Kent, Julian Tavarez and Jose Vizcaino.

In ‘97 and thereafter, Kent could have taken over for Tony Fernandez and David Bell at second base. In ’99, the Indians could shift Kent to third, still sign Roberto Alomar and give Rosen much needed DH duties.

Just imagine the 1998 Indians batting line-up: Kenny Lofton-Manny Ramirez-Al Rosen-Jim Thome-Brian Giles-David Justice-Jeff Kent-Omar Vizquel-Sandy Alomar. Perhaps they win a few World Series, perhaps Rosen stays healthy. If so, Rosen is in the Hall of Fame.

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

Others in this series: Al KalineAl SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News RockiesBarry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob WatsonBobby VeachCarl MaysCesar CedenoCharles Victory FaustChris von der AheDenny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleDoug GlanvilleEddie LopatElmer FlickEric Davis, Frank HowardFritz MaiselGary CarterGavvy 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 JacksonSpud ChandlerStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTony PhillipsTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays

Pedro Alvarez: Play Him? Demote Him? Platoon Him?

What to do about Pedro Alvarez? That’s the number one question asked by Pittsburgh Pirates fans during spring training. Alvarez is the highly touted second overall pick from the 2008 draft who signed a $6.4 million contract with a $6 million signing bonus. First called up to the Pirates major league roster in 2010, Alvarez performed well. In 95 games, Alvarez hit .256 with 18 home runs and 64 RBIs.

But in 2011, Alvarez hit .191 and was demoted to AAA Indianapolis mid-season before being called back in September. This spring has been, to put it kindly, a disaster for Alvarez. His batting average is about .150 and he strikes out with alarming regularity. Through Sunday’s games, Alvarez had struck out 24 times and walked once.

Nevertheless, management is poised to start Alvarez at third base with the long shot hope the he’ll get well against major league pitching. At the same time, however, the Pirates are desperate for power, having none to speak of any place in the lineup save for the occasional Garrett Jones dinger. And there seems little reason to send Alvarez back to Indianapolis since that route has been tried without success.

The risk of putting Alvarez on the field day after day is that if he doesn’t perform, the fans will rag him mercilessly. When that happens, and it’s 100 percent certain that it will if Alvarez doesn’t hit, then his psyche would become even more messed up than it already is.

For fans who have endured 19 consecutive losing seasons, Alvarez is symbolic of all that’s wrong with the Pirates.

The Alvarez case has two interesting back stories. First, before he even arrived in Pittsburgh, Alvarez got off on the wrong foot. On August 18, 2008 after finishing his Vanderbilt University career, Alvarez agreed to but did not immediately sign his $6 million Pirates’ contract. When the signing deadline expired, Alvarez was placed on the restricted list. A month later, Alvarez renegotiated a $6.4 million contract. In other words, Alvarez held the Pirates up for $400,000.

Second, after Alvarez flamed out last year manager Clint Hurdle and the front office urged him to play winter ball so that he could practice against high quality players. Alvarez refused. Instead, he chose to “train” in Newport Beach, California. Here’s how Alvarez explained his workout schedule: “Some days I’ll hit for 10 minutes, some days I’ll hit for an hour. I’ll typically be done around noon and then I have the rest of the day just to hang out.”

If you’ve been to Newport Beach, you know that “hanging out” there is a dream vacation that’s not likely to result in a higher batting average.

The 2012 season is crucial for the Pirates and Alvarez. Last year, after a promising start that saw the Pirates in the thick of the National League Central Division race through July, the team fell like a stone. Nevertheless, the Pirates raised ticket prices. The offseason acquisitions, A.J. Burnett, Eric Bedard, Rod Barajas, Casey McGehee, Nate McClouth are aging cast offs. In Burnett’s case, the Yankees were willing to absorb millions from his contract to have him not pitch in New York. Of the 30 teams, only the Pirates were willing to take Burnett despite the Yankees’ subsidy.

As for Alvarez, a .211 career hitter against left handers, he’ll spend most of April on the bench. The Pirates’ early schedule includes games against the Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and the Arizona Diamondbacks. That means Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels, Madison Bumgarner as well as the league’s top right handers like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Roy Halladay.

Baseball is full of surprises. And maybe the 2012 Pirates will once again be among the contenders that take the National League by storm. From this corner, however, a happy ending for the Pirates seems unlikely.

Guy Hecker’s 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys: The Least Talented Team Ever

Guy Hecker had an incredible 1884 season. The 28-year old righty started an American Association-leading 73 games for the Louisville Eclipse (completing 72 of them and making 75 appearances overall). He also led the league with 52 wins (against just 20 losses for a .722 winning percentage), a 1.80 ERA, 171 ERA+, 0.868 WHIP, and 385 strikeouts.

At the plate, he made 328 appearances and hit .297/.323/.430 for a 149 OPS+. His WAR was 16.6 as a pitcher and 2.0 as a hitter. His combined total of 18.6 led the league by a full seven wins (over Tony Mullane).

Hecker’s name has come up quite a bit in my research, but it recently popped up again as I was calculating Wins Above Expectancy for managers. Wins Above Expectancy simply calculates how many wins a team should have won and assigns the difference to the manager. Obviously the manager is not the sole reason a team performs over or under expectation. Wins Above Expectancy is just a junk stat I’ve been playing with since we don’t have a good way to calculate WAR for managers.

Hecker’s name came up because he was a player/manager in the final year of his career. Hecker also pitched and played first base for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys in the National League. The team was awful—they went just 23–113, setting a new loss record that would stand until 1899.

I calculate Wins Above Expectancy in two ways. The first uses Pythagorean record, which is the record the team was expected to finish with, given their runs scored and runs allowed. The Alleghenys scored 597 runs and allowed 1235, giving them a pathetic Pythagorean record of 28-108. So, by their runs scored and runs allowed, they should have won five more games than they actually did.

The second approach I used was to add up the combined WAR of all players on the team and calculate what the expected win-loss record would be. It is by this measure that the Alleghenys are the worst team ever.

The team’s hitters were worth –119 runs at the plate and –99 in the field, a horrible combination that adds up to a total of –4.9 WAR.

And the hitters were amazing compared to the pitchers.

22 pitchers took the hill in Pittsburgh that year. 21 were below replacement level. Only 25-year old Phenomenal Smith was able to produce 0.6 WAR (in 44 innings). Hecker himself was 2.4 wins below replacement. A pitcher named Fred Osborne managed to finish 4.3 wins below replacement in just 58 innings. The total of the pitching staff was –37.5 WAR.

The combined –42.4 WAR is simply incredible. Based on that total, the Alleghenys were expected to win just 1.8 games. As in 2–136, if you round up.

A starting lineup of 2012 managers

Big league playing experience is not a prerequisite for being hired as a major league manager, as evidenced by the six current managers who never made it to the “show’ as players: Fredi Gonzalez (Braves), Terry Collins (Mets), Joe Maddon (Rays), Buck Showalter (Orioles), Jim Leyland (Tigers) and Manny Acta (Indians). Several other current managers had short, unspectacular careers, consistent with the long-standing notion that marginal players make the best managers.

Nonetheless, the group of managers heading up major league clubs at the start of the 2012 season can be assembled into a pretty fair starting lineup.

C: Mike Scioscia (Angels). Another old saw about managing is that catchers are well suited to the job. A look at the current set of major league skippers offers no reason dismiss this thought. Seven current managers played catcher, but only Scioscia was a stand-out as a player. Joe Girardi (Yankees) and Mike Matheny (Cardinals) both held down starting positions for several years, but neither came close to Scioscia’s 23.7 WAR, which he accumulated during 13 years with the LA Dodgers. Girardi, Matheny, Bruce
Bochy (Giants), Ned Yost (Royals), Bob Melvin (Athletics) and Eric Wedge (Mariners) each earned less than five WAR for their playing efforts.

1B: Don Mattingly (Dodgers). He was an MVP, a six-time All-Star and a nine-time Gold Glove winner, and although I am not among the people advocating Mattingly’s Hall of Fame candidacy (largely on his brief peak and less-than-elite OBP), there’s no denying that he was a first-rate ball player. As the only first baseman among the current crop of MLB managers, he’s a natural for this starting lineup.

2B: Davey Johnson (Nationals). Like Mattingly at first base, Johnson is the only current MLB skipper who played second base. With Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger, Johnson was part of the celebrated Baltimore infield of the late ’60s and early ’70s. A four-time All-Star, Johnson saved his best season for 1973 when he hit 43 home runs for the Atlanta Braves.

3B: Robin Ventura (White Sox). Hired this off-season as Chicago’s field general despite having no previous managerial experience, Ventura will be returning to the organization where his playing career began. In ten seasons with the Sox, Ventura won five Gold Gloves and was a consistent offensive force in a lineup that also included Frank Thomas and Tim Raines. Ventura’s best season was 1999, his first with the Mets, when he hit .301, had an OPS of .908 and won his sixth Gold Glove. Brad Mills (Astros) is the only other third-sacker among current MLB managers, and he was a replacement-level player who had a very brief career with the Montreal Expos.

SS: Ozzie Guillen (Marlins). Shortstop was the primary defensive position of five current MLB managers, but Guillen is the natural choice to be in the starting lineup, mostly on the strength of his defensive skills. Never an offensive force, Guillen was a .264 hitter with little power. Nonetheless, he held the starting job for the White Sox for more than a decade, with more than two-thirds of his career 15.9 WAR earned on defense. Bobby Valentine (Red Sox), Ron Washington (Rangers), Dale Sveum (Cubs) and Ron Gardenhire (Twins) all played shortstop, but they did so at or near the replacement level.

LF: Dusty Baker (Reds). Baker had an interesting career arc. His talents were visible early in his career, when he hit .304 and slugged .501 in his age-23 season with Atlanta in 1973. He did not top 130 in OPS+ again until 1977 (age 28), and then did so again in ’80, ’81 and ’82. His peak years were ’79 through ’85 (ages 30-36). He earned a solid 34.8 WAR for his career.

CF: Kirk Gibson (Diamondbacks). The signature moment in Gibson’s career was his World Series home run off Dennis Eckersley. He won the MVP in 1988, his first season with the LA Dodgers, and on the strength of that season and the previous several years in Detroit, Gibson was poised to make a run at a Hall of Fame career. But from 1989 forward, Gibson was barely more than a replacement level performer. Still, he
accumulated 37.1 WAR during his 17-year career. Although he played far more as a corner outfielder, Gibson played more than 300 games in center, making him best suited to hold that position in our managers-only starting nine.

RF: Clint Hurdle (Pirates). Hurdle had one of the most disappointing careers of any major leaguer, not because he was a poor player, but because of the astronomical expectations that came along with his arrival with the Kansas City Royals in 1978. If you strip away the expectations and take an objective view, what you can observe is a short career to be sure (less than 1600 plate appearances) but not an unproductive one. His career .341 OBP and .403 SLG made for a 105 OPS+, making Hurdle a slightly above average performer with the bat. If not Hurdle in this starting lineup, the other choices are Charlie Manuel (Phillies), Ron Roenicke (Brewers) and Jim Tracy (Rockies), all of whom had short, undistinguished careers as MLB outfielders.

SP: Bud Black (Padres). Few major league pitchers become major league managers. Among 2012 skippers, only Black and John Farrell (Blue Jays) were MLB pitchers. Black was not much more than a .500 pitcher at 121-and-116, but his ERA+ was above average at 104, and for much of his career he was a serviceable second or third starter. He earned 19.6 WAR over his 15-year career. John Farrell has a somewhat less impressive pitching resume. He made only 109 starts in an eight-year, injury-interrupted career. Although certainly not an ace with his 36-and-46 record, Farrell was not a push-over, either. For his career, he averaged more than six innings pitched per start.

DH: Although the managers making up this lineup are drawn from both leagues, their talents are best suited to playing under National League rules – no DH required. If forced to send a DH to the plate, this team would be hard-pressed to produce a batter with anything near league-average offensive production. Take your pick from among Girardi (72 OPS+), Washington (79), Valentine (85) and Roenicke (92). All were more likely to strike out than to strike fear in the opposing pitcher.