All posts by Albert Lang

About Albert Lang

Albert has been playing and arguing about baseball and fantasy sports since 2002. Since 1982, he has also been largely miserable (here’s looking at you Armando Benitiez) because of the Orioles and Eagles. Albert has won leagues and lost leagues, but he has the most fun debating player values. Albert typically plays in several baseball and football leagues a year. He also is an avid baseball card collector and writes about older players and their historical value relative to the Hall of Fame, their peers or current players. When not harassing league mates with trades and analyzing what categories his team performs poorly in, Albert is a communications professional in Washington, D.C. Follow Albert on Twitter @h2h_corner. He has an awesome puppy named Charlotte.

Any player/Any era: Kenny Lofton

What he did: Kenny Lofton finished his career with 1,528 runs, the 33rd most by a lefty in MLB History. In 2000, his run scoring was at its zenith as he scored a run in 18 consecutive games, tied for the seventh longest streak since 1893.

While a player needs someone to knock him in to score, the player does have to get on base. Lofton’s career .372 OBP is ahead of Roberto Alomar, Bobby Grich, Barry Larkin, Rafael Palmeiro, George Brett, and a whole host of other players.

Of course, once Lofton got on base, he knew what to do. He stole 622 bases, the 15th most in MLB history and almost halfway to Rickey Henderson. He also was efficient, posting a 79.5% success rate, just behind Ozzie Smith and in the top 30 in MLB history. As a rookie, Lofton stole 66 bases, the fifth most prolific rookie season in MLB history.

Lofton played for 11 teams, although the Indians were the only club he played for more than one season with. He hit a HR for every team except the Houston Astros. Only seven players in MLB history have hit HRs for nine different teams. Todd Zeile leads the way, hitting HRs it for 11 teams, while Rickey Henderson (and others) did it for nine squads.

In 2007, his final season, a 40-year-old Lofton batted .296/.367/.414 with 23 steals in 30 chances. In fact, his age 37-40 seasons produced a .303/.367/.409 line with 84 SBs and 18 CS.

When his Hall of Fame candidacy comes up, there will be a heated debate over whether he belongs. While it might not be a no-brainer, the Hall will be a better place with players like Lofton in it.

In addition to the steals of home and other acts of brilliance, I’ll remember that Lofton was the first batter in Oriole Park at Camden Yards history. He led off with a short fly to right. Rick Sutcliffe pitched a complete game shut-out for the win. Same Horn and Leo Gomez scored for the Orioles with Chris Hoiles and Billy Ripken knocking them in. Charles Nagy went eight strong for the Indians.

Era he would have thrived in: It’s hard to imagine Lofton not thriving in any particular era. That said, starting Lofton’s career more recently would have helped him get the recognition he deserves. Lofton wasn’t just another Otis Nixon or Juan Pierre, he would be the closest we have in the modern game to Tim Raines. For reasons you’ll see, Lofton probably belongs on the Boston Red Sox of this era.

Why: With Lofton’s ability to get on base and steal efficiently, he would fit perfectly into the “modern” game of baseball. Lofton would fit nowhere better than on the Boston Red Sox. If you normalize Lofton’s numbers to the 2008 Red Sox, you get a .312/.386/.442 line with 692 steals.

Those numbers would compare incredibly favorably to Raines and would create this modern Tim Raines dynamic. As Raines continues to fight or writers continue to fight for for inclusion in the Hall of Fame, Lofton would be the perfect reminder of how great Raines was.

Beginning in 2002, it wouldn’t be that difficult to get Lofton significant at bats, with him moving Trot Nixon to the bench predominantly, but also Coco Crisp, Gabe Kapler and others. It would reunite Lofton with Manny Ramirez and let Lofton bat ahead of Manny, Ortiz, Nomar, etc. In short, he’d score a bazillion runs and be appreciated for all his hustle and brilliance.

Any Player/Any Era: Larry Walker

What he did: Clearly, if Graham can do a Does he belong in the Hall column on Walker, he had a long and storied career. I also added a blurb on Walker for Graham’s 50 Best Players not in the Hall:

Larry Walker is one of the greatest left-handed hitters in the history of baseball. Walker is tied for the 38th best average by a left-handed batter at .313. He has the 46th highest OBP in MLB history and the 15th best slugging percentage all-time at .565…Sure it was helpful to Walker to have played his home games at Coors Field during his relative prime, but kudos to him for taking full advantage.

Going beyond that, Walker finished with a higher OBP than Joe DiMaggio, Cap Anson and many others. When you combine his power with his ability to get on base, you generate the 17th highest OPS in MLB history, a number Alex Rodriguez, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and others can only look up at. Adjusting his OPS for the era yields a 141 OPS+, tied for 69th all time and ahead of many baseball greats.

During his career, four times he would bat .300 with 30 HRs and 100 RBIs — that is tied for the 24th most seasons of all time. Walker is also one of just 24 players to bat over .300 and hit over 300 HRs in his career. Of all the left-handed batters in all the world that ever played baseball, Walker recorded the 16th and 17th highest slugging percentages in a season. The only immortals he trails: Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams. Those are the only lefties in baseball history to put up better slugging years.

Finally, he is tied with Carlton Fisk for 96th in wins above replacement (bWAR) — ahead of the likes of Eddie Murray, Pee Wee Reese, Craig Biggio, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Gary Sheffield and Mark McGwire.

While it is hard to parse out the Coors effect and how that improved his numbers (and you’ll see my attempt a bit below), from ages 22 – 27, Walker played for Montreal and would accumulate a pretty decent line: .281/.357/.483.

Quite simply, Walker had one of the most devastating bats from the left-side in MLB history.

And his parents are Larry and Mary and his siblings are Gary, Cary and Barry. Something tells me his family liked to have fun!

Era he would thrive in: For a variety of somewhat selfish reasons, I’m putting Walker on the late 1930s St. Louis Cardinals. While he might not have “thrived” in the ‘30s/’40s (as his power and speed bulk numbers would suffer somewhat), they won’t be that much worse and we can ignore steroids, Coors and whatever the heck baseball did to create an environment conducive to hitting during Walker’s era. In short, his numbers won’t look that much different and we can superficially get at how Walker would do in a bygone time when everything was great.

Why: If you normalize Walker’s career to the 1936 St. Louis Cardinals, you’d end up with a .301/.386/.545 line with 354 HRs and 218 SBs. Placing Walker’s numbers in the context of a different era would make him a near no-doubt Hall of Famer. For example, just look at how his career would have stacked up against his “teammate” Johnny Mize.

Mize: .312/.397/.562 with 359 HRs and 28 SBs

Walker in the 30s: .301/.386/.545 with 354 HRs and 218 SBs

Walker in reality: .313/.400/.565 with 383 HRs and 230 SBs.

Mize on the ’95 Rockies: .352/.440/.630 with 394 HRs and 28 SBs

In addition, Walker would be another in the long line of storied World Champions on the Cardinals and help a team that frequently just missed the post-season reach the promise land. In ’36, the club finished second and got horrible production from Terry Moore. In ’39, the club again finished second with not overly great production from Moore. It was the same story in ’41.

In 1942, Mize would leave the club, but Stan Musial would start his career. Walker could easily slide to first base and buoy a team that beat the Yankees in the World Series. The following year, Walker could slide back to the outfield to let Ray Sanders get at bats at first and replace Harry Walker and Danny Litwhiler in the outfield.

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.

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

Managers with the Most Wins and Their Playing Careers Part II: Decades

Recently, we looked at how the group of managers with 900 or more wins broke down globally. This piece attempts to ascertain how the attributes of managers with 900 or more wins changed or not over time.

1980s — Average playing career: 11.5 seasons — War: 20

Mgr

Played in MLB

WAR

W

L

W-L%

Plyof App

WSwon

Player/Manager

Mike Scioscia as player

23.7

1066

878

0.548

6

1

Ozzie Guillen as player

15.9

678

617

0.524

2

1

Ron Gardenhire as player

0.5

866

755

0.534

6

0

Jim Tracy as player

-0.7

792

782

0.503

2

0

Terry Francona as player

-3.7

1029

915

0.529

5

2

Not surprisingly only two managers with 900 or more wins (Terry Francona and Mike Scioscia) started their playing careers after 1980. Of course, we could probably add Ron Gardenhire, Jim Tracy and Ozzie Guillen (I’ve done so in the chart, but not the averages) to this list as they’ll likely earn the requisite wins to join the club.

Oddly, Francona and Scioscia have the same amount of games managed and, combined, their managerial record is 2095-1793. If you add the three other likely managers, this group has a 4,431-3,947. Pretty impressive. Together they have four World Series titles.

Of course, their playing careers weren’t all that successful. Tracy played just two years and Gardenhire played in just five (although he managed 0.5 WAR). Francona was a pretty poor player for 10 seasons somehow. Scioscia leads the way in WAR (with 23.7), with Guillen coming in second (15.9).

While we don’t have a ton of data, it does appear that there’s no relation whatsoever in recent history between being a great player and becoming a good manager. From the minors, Ryne Sandberg weeps.

1970s — Average playing career: 9.8 seasons — War: 70.4

Mgr

Played in MLB

WAR

W

L

W-L%

Plyof App

WSwon

Player/Manager

Mike Hargrove as player

30

1188

1173

0.503

5

0

Phil Garner as player

26.9

985

1054

0.483

2

0

Art Howe as player

11.9

1129

1137

0.498

3

0

Bruce Bochy as player

2

1360

1376

0.497

5

1

Tom Kelly as player

-0.4

1140

1244

0.478

2

2

The players who began their careers in 1970 and became 900+ win managers (combined record of 5,802-5,984) weren’t as successful as the 1980s group. Together the ‘70s PTMs have three World Series, but only one (Mike Hargrove) has a .500+ winning percentage and he sits at .503. That said, the others are reasonably close with Tom Kelly being the furthest away from even at .478. It’s interesting in a clearly-doesn’t-mean-anything-sort-of-way that the highest WAR and best win% match-up and so on. Poor Tom Kelly.

This group fared a bit better when it came to their playing careers, though. Hargrove and Phil Garner put together 25+ WAR careers and played for 12 and 16 years respectively. Art Howe played for 11 years and accumulated 11.9 WAR. While Bochy wasn’t very good (2 WAR), he did play for nine seasons. Tom Kelly is the black sheep of the group, again, playing just one season.

1960s — Average playing career: 11.7 seasons — War: 173.1

Mgr

Played in MLB

WAR

W

L

W-L%

Plyof App

WSwon

Player/Manager

Joe Torre as player

55.6

2326

1997

0.538

15

4

plyr/mgr: 1977
Jim Fregosi as player

46.1

1028

1095

0.484

2

0

Dusty Baker as player

34.8

1484

1367

0.521

5

0

Davey Johnson as player

24.5

1188

931

0.561

5

1

Lou Piniella as player

11.4

1835

1713

0.517

7

1

Bobby Cox as player

1

2504

2001

0.556

16

1

Bobby Valentine as player

0.8

1117

1072

0.51

2

0

Jimy Williams as player

-0.1

910

790

0.535

2

0

Tony LaRussa as player

-1

2728

2365

0.536

14

3

A whopping nine players began their careers in 1960 and went on to manage ball clubs to 900+ wins. The group was pretty successful: 15,120-13,331, with 10 World Series (thank you Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa).

This group also brings the first potential Hall of Fame player in Torre and two other well above average players in Jim Fregosi and Dusty Baker. In addition, Davey Johnson had a fine and long career, while Lou Piniella played for 18 seasons. There were some duds as players: LaRussa (-1 WAR), Jimy Williams (-0.1 WAR), Bobby Cox (1 WAR) and Bobby Valentine (0.8 WAR). Still, the group averaged nearly 12 seasons as major leaguers.

1950s — Average playing career: 10.4 seasons — War: 169

Mgr

Played in MLB

WAR

W

L

W-L%

Plyof App

WSwon

Player/Manager

Frank Robinson HOF as player

107.4

1065

1176

0.475

0

0

plyr/mgr: 1975-1976
Felipe Alou as player

39.4

1033

1021

0.503

1

0

Bill Virdon as player

15.6

995

921

0.519

3

0

Billy Martin as player

3.7

1253

1013

0.553

5

1

Dick Williams HOF as player

3.2

1571

1451

0.52

5

2

Whitey Herzog HOF as player

2.6

1281

1125

0.532

6

1

Chuck Tanner as player

-0.4

1352

1381

0.495

1

1

Tom Lasorda HOF as player

-1.1

1599

1439

0.526

7

2

Sparky Anderson HOF as player

-1.4

2194

1834

0.545

7

3

The nine players who began their careers in the 1950s won 10 World Series and posted a 12,343-11,361 record. Frank Robinson is really the only poor manager in the group. Chuck Tanner, who also had a sub-.500 winning percentage, at least won a World Series and was just barely under .500 (1,352-1,381).

That said, bringing Frank Robinson into the fold gives us the first no-doubt Hall of Famer who went on to win 900+ games as a manager. However, the rest of the group is pretty inauspicious. Felipe Alou had the second longest career and second most WAR. However, aside from him and potentially Bill Virdon, it’s a pedestrian collection.

1940s — Average playing career: 11.2 seasons — War: 89.7

Mgr

Played in MLB

WAR

W

L

W-L%

Plyof App

WSwon

Player/Manager

Red Schoendienst HOF as player

40.4

1041

955

0.522

2

1

Al Dark as player

38.6

994

954

0.51

3

1

Bill Rigney as player

7.4

1239

1321

0.484

1

0

Danny Murtaugh as player

3.6

1115

950

0.54

5

2

Ralph Houk as player

0

1619

1531

0.514

3

2

Gene Mauch as player

-0.3

1902

2037

0.483

2

0

The six managers who began their careers in the 1940s had winning percentages between .483-.540. Together, they went 7,910-7,748 and won six World Series. Danny Murtaugh seems to have been the most successful (.540 with two World Series) but he had the third shortest tenure and only fourth most wins.

That said, Bill Rigney was clearly the worst, as his average yearly finish was fifth place. Oddly, this group’s average yearly finish was between 3.3 and 5.2, whereas seven of the nine managers from the 1950s group averaged in the 2s.

This is the first set of players who all had at least eight seasons of pro-ball. That said, only Red Schoendienst and Al Dark had careers of any note. Altogether, they averaged nearly 15 WAR, but that is entirely the product of Schoendienst (40.4) and Dark (38.6)

1930s — Average playing career: 8 seasons — War: 56.3

Mgr

Played in MLB

WAR

W

L

W-L%

Plyof App

WSwon

Player/Manager

Lou Boudreau HOF as player

56

1162

1224

0.487

1

1

plyr/mgr: 1942-1952
Paul Richards as player

0.3

923

901

0.506

0

0

Walter Alston HOF as player

0

2040

1613

0.558

7

4

Only Walter Alston, who won four World Series and was nearly 430 games over .500, can be considered a top notch manager. Lou Boudreau had a below .500 record and his team’s average finish was barely higher than fifth place. Paul Richards wasn’t much better than .500, as he was 923-901.

If Alston carried the group managerially, Boudreau carried them in terms of playing careers. Boudreau played for 15 years and accumulated 56 WAR. Combined, Richards and Alston played for nine seasons and accumulated 0.3 WAR.

For all intents and purposes, Richards played from 1932-1935. He came back from 1943-1946 as baseball was devoid of talent due to the War. Oddly, Richards might have been a better player during the second stretch: he hit .231/.313/.310 with 1.2 WAR while during the first part of his career he hit .216/.285/.281 and was a -0.9 WAR player. Richards was a no-hit catcher who could lead a pitching staff. He is credited with turning Dutch Leonard’s career around by suggesting he learn the knuckleball.

Meanwhile, Alston appeared in just one game, got one at bat and struck out on three pitches (reportedly one strike was a long foul ball). He was subbing in for Johnny Mize who was run out of the game. He wasn’t much better with the glove as he made an error in his two fielding chances.

1920s — Average playing career: 16 seasons — War: 88.2

Mgr

Played in MLB

WAR

W

L

W-L%

Plyof App

WSwon

Player/Manager

Joe Cronin HOF as player

62.5

1236

1055

0.54

2

0

plyr/mgr: 1933-1945
Al Lopez HOF as player

13.5

1410

1004

0.584

2

0

Chuck Dressen as player

8.6

1008

973

0.509

2

0

Leo Durocher HOF as player

3.6

2008

1709

0.54

3

1

plyr/mgr: 1939-1945

This is an odd bunch. Combined, the four managed teams to a 5,662-4,741 record, yet just one World Series victory. The managerial star of the group, Al Lopez, won five pennants and his team’s average finish was 2.4. Leo Durocher claimed the World Series and won 3,739 games. This is the first group with significant player-managers, as, combined, Durocher and Joe Cronin player-managed for nearly 20 seasons.

While the group averaged 16 seasons in their playing careers, Cronin was the only real successful player. Lopez was a solid catcher who caught the most games in baseball history until Gary Carter broke his record, but was just a 13.5 WAR guy over 19 seasons. Durocher similarly hung around without doing much (3.6 WAR).

1910s — Average playing career: 16.7 seasons — War: 181.6

Mgr

Played in MLB

WAR

W

L

W-L%

Plyof App

WSwon

Player/Manager

Frankie Frisch HOF as player

74.8

1138

1078

0.514

1

1

plyr/mgr: 1933-1937
Jimmy Dykes as player

28.1

1406

1541

0.477

0

0

plyr/mgr: 1934-1939
Billy Southworth HOF as player

20.3

1044

704

0.597

4

2

plyr/mgr: 1929
Casey Stengel HOF as player

18.7

1905

1842

0.508

10

7

Steve O’Neill as player

17.4

1040

821

0.559

1

1

Bucky Harris HOF as player

12.8

2158

2219

0.493

3

2

plyr/mgr: 1924-1931
Charlie Grimm as player

9.5

1287

1067

0.547

3

0

plyr/mgr: 1932-1936

The older we get, the more player-managers appear: five of the seven managers in this group were player-managers. Together, they won 13 World Series and had a 9,978-9,272, aided mostly by Billy Southworth (1,044-704), Charlie Grimm (1,287-1,067) and Steve O’Neil (1,040-821). While Frankie Frisch and Casey Stengel were fine managers, they didn’t have the year-in, year-out regular season success of the others.

As managers, these guys were tremendous, as players, not so much. While they averaged nearly 17 MLB seasons, Frisch was, really, the only accomplished player. Southworth and Jimmy Dykes were fine regulars but did nothing of incredible note in their careers. If you take Frisch out of the equation, the group played 98 seasons and accumulated 106.8 WAR.

 1900s — Average playing career: 12 seasons — War: 38.2

Mgr

Played in MLB

WAR

W

L

W-L%

Plyof App

WSwon

Player/Manager

Miller Huggins HOF as player

35.7

1413

1134

0.555

6

3

plyr/mgr: 1913-1916
Bill McKechnie HOF as player

2.5

1896

1723

0.524

4

2

plyr/mgr: 1915

Just two players started their careers in the 1900s and went on to win 900+ games as managers – but boy did they. Combined, Bill McKechnie and Miller Huggins went 3,309-2,857 and won five World Series.

Huggins was, by far, the better player though. Blessed with the knowledge that making an out was a bad thing, Huggins routinely led the league in walks, finishing with a .265/.382/.314 line. Meanwhile McKechnie was good in just two of his 11 seasons. He finished as a .251/.301/.313 hitter. Huggins was also the better manager. His teams finished higher in the standings, had a higher winning percentage and he won more pennants and World Series.

1800s — Average Playing Career: 16.7 seasons — WAR: 399.4

Mgr

Played in MLB

WAR

W

L

W-L%

Plyof App

WSwon

Player/Manager

Cap Anson HOF as player

99.5

1295

947

0.578

0

0

plyr/mgr: 1875-1897
Fred Clarke HOF as player

73.4

1602

1181

0.576

2

1

plyr/mgr: 1897-1915
Frank Chance HOF as player

49.5

946

648

0.593

4

2

plyr/mgr: 1905-1914
John McGraw HOF as player

49.3

2763

1948

0.586

9

3

plyr/mgr: 1899-1906
Clark Griffith HOF as player

49

1491

1367

0.522

0

0

plyr/mgr: 1901-1914
Hughie Jennings HOF as player

46.4

1184

995

0.543

3

0

plyr/mgr: 1907-1918
Ned Hanlon HOF as player

14.5

1313

1164

0.53

0

0

plyr/mgr: 1889-1892
Wilbert Robinson HOF as player

12.3

1399

1398

0.5

2

0

plyr/mgr: 1902
Connie Mack HOF as player

4.5

3731

3948

0.486

8

5

plyr/mgr: 1894-1896
Harry Wright HOF as player

1

1225

885

0.581

0

0

plyr/mgr: 1871-1877

Five managers in this group had winning percentages above .576 – that’s astounding. As a collective, they were 16,949-14,481. While they had solid regular season success, they brought home just 11 World Series. Of course the first Series wasn’t until 1903 and many of these men began their managerial careers significantly before that.

As players, Cap Anson and Fred Clarke led the way, but Clark Griffith, Hughie Jennings, John McGraw and Frank Chance all had considerable MLB careers. In reality, Wilbert Robinson and Ned Hanlon were merely average players for their respective careers and Harry Wright was the only suboptimal player. This group averaged nearly 40 WAR as players.

_____________________________________________

Surprisingly the 900 wins or more managers don’t skew a ton to baseball’s infancy, but are evenly spread out over the first 70 or so years. However, it seems clear that the better players who became 900 win or more managers started their careers in the early days.

Players who became managers and started their career between 1871 and 1919 accumulated 619.2 WAR. Meanwhile players who began their careers between 1925 and 1947 accumulated 234.2 WAR, players who began their careers between 1950 and 1969 accumulated 342.1 WAR and players who began their careers after 1973 accumulated 90.4 WAR. In total, players who started their careers before 1920 and went on to win 900 games as managers accounted for 619.2 WAR, while the rest accounted for 666.7 WAR.

In addition, 22 of the 57 managers with 900+ wins were player-managers at one point. However, 17 of those 22 began their playing careers before 1920.  With players having the chance to play and manage at the same time, it’s apparent that the managers with the most wins in MLB history who were also Hall of Fame type players skewed mightily toward the early parts of baseball history.

Managers with the Most Wins and Their Playing Careers Part I, an Overview

Let’s get this out of the way: team wins are an imperfect way to measure managerial success.

Throughout this series, we’ll look at different ways to ascertain a good manager. While many (from GM to utility infielder) have a hand in a win, certainly managers who stuck around long enough to manage teams that won the most games in Major League Baseball history were, for the most part, successful. Hopefully, using bulk wins (and as a byproduct years managed) will shed some light on the types of players who become successful managers.

Somewhat surprising: of the managers with 900 wins or more, just seven of the 64 never reached the majors. Of course, those seven boast the two managers with the best winning percentage: Joe McCarthy and Frank Selee. In fact, with Earl Weaver having the seventh best winning percentage, non-MLBers claim three of the top seven winning percentage spots.

In addition, John McNamara is the only member of the 900 win club with no MLB experience who posted a sub-.500 winning percentage, although Jim Leyland’s record is 1588-1585 and, if Buck Showalter manages the Orioles much longer, he could end up with a losing record (he’s 985-949).

Turning to those who played, the great majority of players turned managers (PTMs) with 900+ wins had reasonably long playing careers. Just Walter Alston, Sparky Anderson and Tom Kelly played only one year in the bigs, while Bobby Cox and Jimy Williams played parts of two seasons. Tommy Lasorda pitched in parts of three seasons – and that’s the group with less than six years in the majors. In fact, the average playing career of this group was 12.9 seasons.

That’s not to say the group represents the best players in baseball history, as they average just 22.6 WAR. In fact, 25 of the 57 managers recorded less than 10 WAR. Terry Francona comes in at the bottom with -3.7 WAR, but he’s joined by seven others with negative WAR. On the flip side, seven players were worth 55.6 or more WAR. That group includes six Hall of Famers (Frank Robinson, Cap Anson, Frankie Frisch, Fred Clarke, Joe Cronin and Lou Boudreau) and one future Hall of Famer in Joe Torre.

Mgr

Played in MLB

WAR

W

L

W-L%

Billy Southworth HOF as player

20.3

1044

704

0.597

Frank Chance HOF as player

49.5

946

648

0.593

John McGraw HOF as player

49.3

2763

1948

0.586

Al Lopez HOF as player

13.5

1410

1004

0.584

Harry Wright HOF as player

1

1225

885

0.581

Cap Anson HOF as player

99.5

1295

947

0.578

Fred Clarke HOF as player

73.4

1602

1181

0.576

Davey Johnson as player

24.5

1188

931

0.561

Steve O’Neill as player

17.4

1040

821

0.559

Walter Alston HOF as player

0

2040

1613

0.558

The four PTMs with 900+ wins and the highest winning percentages were pedestrian to above average baseball players: Billy Southworth, Frank Chance, John McGraw and Al Lopez. The fifth member of this group, Harry Wright, accumulated just one WAR in seven seasons. But, immediately after him, we have Anson and Clarke, one immortal and one solid Hall of Famer. Davey Johnson is next, followed by Steve O’Neil and Alston. Bobby Cox was right behind Alston on the list.

Of the ten 900+ win managers with the highest winning percentage, two were worth more than 73 WAR in their careers; two were worth 49-50 WAR; two were worth 20-25 WAR; two were worth 13-17.5 WAR; and the last two were worth 0 and 1 WAR. It seems it didn’t take a great player to become one of the managers with the best winning percentage and 900+ wins.

Similarly scattered: the playing careers were somewhat evenly distributed throughout the 900+ win managers (yet, for obvious reasons, skewed a tad to baseball’s past):

  • 10 managers began their playing careers before 1900;
  • Nine began their careers between 1904-1919;
  • 13 began their careers between 1920-1947;
  • Nine began in the 50s; nine began their careers in the 60s; and
  • Seven began their careers after 1970.

It is somewhat surprising that as many 900+ win managers began their careers during the 50s and 60s as began their careers before 1920.

That said, six of the seven managers in the group with the best winning percentages started their careers in 1913 or before, with five starting their careers before 1900. Of the top 10 by winning percentage, only Al Lopez (1928), Johnson (1965) and  Alston (1936) began careers after 1913. It appears the best of the best came from PTMs in baseball’s infancy.

Mgr

Played in MLB

WAR

W

L

W-L%

Billy Southworth HOF as player

20.3

1044

704

0.597

Frank Chance HOF as player

49.5

946

648

0.593

John McGraw HOF as player

49.3

2763

1948

0.586

Al Lopez HOF as player

13.5

1410

1004

0.584

Harry Wright HOF as player

1

1225

885

0.581

Cap Anson HOF as player

99.5

1295

947

0.578

Fred Clarke HOF as player

73.4

1602

1181

0.576

Davey Johnson as player

24.5

1188

931

0.561

Steve O’Neill as player

17.4

1040

821

0.559

Walter Alston HOF as player

0

2040

1613

0.558

Meanwhile of the ten 900+ win managers with the worst winning percentages, four began their playing careers after 1950 and another two began their careers in the 1940s – only three began their careers before 1920. Expanding this pool to the 13 managers with sub-.500 winning percentages gives us seven managers who began their playing careers after 1950.

Before looking at the data, it would have been natural to assume that managers in the past stuck around more as there was less scrutiny, pressure and money on the line. However, at least of the managers with the most wins, the opposite is the case. Aside from Connie Mack who is special given that he owned the team, the majority of poor performing managers who stuck around long enough to win a ton of games were from more modern times.

It’s hard to understand exactly why these managers had such staying power as they had just four World Series between them and none averaged a divisional finish above third. In addition, aside from Robinson and possibly Boudreau, none were particularly outstanding ballplayers.

This much is clear: the most successful managers in terms of wins and winning percentage did their work 100 or so years ago. In addition, how good a manager was as a player had little bearing on their ability as a manager, as those with the most managerial success tended not to be stars.

 

Any Player/Any Era: Bobby Grich

What he did: For an even longer take on the enormity of Bobby Grich’s career, check out Graham’s Does he Belong in the Hall of Fame piece on Grich.

For whatever reason, some players lack the mystique or aura of great players, while some flawed players have that “it factor” that creates an undeserved reputation (*ahem* Jack Morris, Jim Rice, etc.).

Unfortunately, Grich falls into the forgotten category, despite walking 1,087 times, the 28th most by a righty.

In addition, he hit the 11th most HRs by a second baseman. If you want to talk about clutch, well, four of Grich’s HRs came in a 1-0 game. This feat was done five times by Ted Williams. Bobby Bonds, Jim Wynn and Dwight Evans are the only other players in history to do it four times. That’s the list of guys with this awesome display of “clutchiness.”

Grich was a powerful and adept fielder at second base, who knew how to get on base. He finished with a .371 OBP. From 1970-1986, only Joe Morgan hit more HRs among second baseman and only Morgan, Rod Carew, Ron Hunt and Willie Randolph posted a better OBP.

Grich just picked a bad time to peak, as, arguably, his best season was the strike-shortened 1981. In just 100 games, Grich hit 22 HRs (to lead the league) and batted .304/.378/.543. He became the first AL second baseman to lead the league in HRs since Nap Lajoie in 1901 and the first to lead either league since Rogers Hornsby in 1929. He also led the league in slugging.

In addition to batting prowess, Grich’s .984 fielding percentage is near the top all time at second and his 71 total zone score is seventh best.

Perhaps, if Grich had come through in the small samples of his post-season chances (98 plate appearances), he’d be in the Hall of Fame, or at least in the discussion.

Era he might have thrived in: Grich would thrive in any era, but it’s likely his career started just a shade too early. His skills and abilities would have fit in perfectly in the early 1990s, specifically on the Atlanta Braves (heck, he’d even get to suffer through another strike-shortened season).

Why: While the Braves were gobbling up pennants and division crowns, the club’s second basemen, predominantly Mark Lemke, were providing absolutely nothing with the stick. As Lemke was busy batting .250 with a .315 OBP, Grich would post a .274/.379/.437 line with the Braves. He’d add multiple 30 HR campaigns and be an offensive stalwart along with Javy Lopez, Fred McGriff, Chipper Jones and others.

In 1997, the Braves could have put out a line-up consisting of Kenny Lofton-Grich-Jones-McGriff-Lopez-Ryan Klesko-Jeff Blauser-Michael Tucker. Those guys would have tested a pitching staff a ton, as multiple players worked counts and posted amazing walk rates.

On the Braves, there’s a solid chance Grich would challenge for MVPs: his 1979 season translated would be .293/.364/.535 with 30 HRs and 100 RBIs. Those numbers on a contender from a second basemen would draw considerable attention. In addition, his 1981 translated would be .315/.392/.561 with 35 HRs and 100 RBIs.

With Grich in tow, who knows how many World Series Bobby Cox and the Braves would have. At the least, Grich would have had more play-off appearances to prove his mettle and potentially build his myth.

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

Others in this series: Al SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News RockiesBarry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob WatsonBobby VeachCarl MaysCesar CedenoCharles Victory FaustChris von der AheDenny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleDoug GlanvilleEddie LopatElmer Flick, Eric 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

Great players who became managers

The germ of this project was seeded a long time ago, probably around the time I read Earl Weaver’s book on managerial strategy for the second time. While I was continually struck by his outlining of basic sabermetric principles, I was also struck by his experience (or lake thereof) playing baseball.

In my mind, at that time, poor players and journeymen made the best managers. I couldn’t really remember many greats who also managed (aside from Frank Robinson, Ted Williams and Pete Rose) and those I could remember didn’t strike me as particularly good skippers.

However, I had no idea if this was true. I then stumbled upon a Branch Rickey baseball card and learned that he was also a failed player, yet went on to great success.

So, I first took a very anecdotal glance for Baseball Past and Present at the best managers of the game and their playing careers. I wasn’t satisfied that my analysis really got me anywhere besides some interesting information.

Since then, I’ve combed Baseball Reference and put together a spreadsheet that matches all 674 players who have managed a game in the majors with their playing careers. My first analysis of that data is below and focuses on players who earned at least 50 WAR and became managers for at least a short time. I was hoping to confirm one of my theses: that the majority of great players who became managers did so in baseball’s infancy (largely because of the player-manager and because modern players play longer).

100 WAR Players Turned Managers (PTMs)

Record: 4,763-4,842
Average Number of Years Managed: 6.2
Number of 100 WAR PTMs: 12

Twelve players who earned over 100 Baseball Reference WAR in their playing careers became managers. Of those 12, only Ted Williams and Frank Robinson began their careers after 1927. Mel Ott is the only other 100 WAR player turned manager who started his career after 1915. In fact, eight of the 12 had careers that started in 1907 or before.

In addition, 10 of these 12 players were, at one point in time, a player manager. Only Ted Williams and Walter Johnson saw their playing and managerial careers not overlap.

When looking at their managerial careers, Cy Young and Honus Wagner managed just 11 games combined (they went 4 – 7), Kid Nichols managed 169 games and Eddie Collins only helmed a team for 336 games. The rest managed for at least four seasons, with Frank Robinson (16 years) and Rogers Hornsby (14 years) managing the longest.

Tris Speaker rates out as likely the best manager. His .543 winning percentage is the second highest and he is one of two to win a play-off series/pennant/World Series (Hornsby was the other). Walter Johnson and Nap Lajoie have the highest winning percentage of the group at .550, but never reached the post-season. They are followed by Speaker and Ty Cobb (.519), discounting Collins (.521) for lack of experience.

In all, the 100+ WAR players turned managers are slightly below .500, being hurt demonstrably by the longest tenured of the group, Hornsby and Robinson, who combined for 1,988 loses.

 

90 WAR Players Turned Managers


Record: 1,551-1,247
Average Number of Years Managed: 9 (however 21 came from one Manager)
Number of 90-99.9 WAR PTMs: 3

Keeping with the trend, both Cap Anson and George Davis were player-managers who began their careers in baseball’s infancy.

Outside of Anson (.578 winning percentage and five pennants), Mathews and Davis were not particularly adept managers. They managed for three seasons apiece and, combined, went 256-300. That said, adding Anson’s sterling managerial record to the 100 WAR group brings the total 90+ WAR PTMs record to 6,314-6,089. A far cry from the below .500 work of just the 100+ crew.

 

80 WAR Players Turned Managers

Player (bRef page) WAR
Christy Mathewson HOF as player

87.7

Roger Connor HOF as player

87.2

 

Record: 172-213
Average Number of Years Managed: 2
Number of 80 WAR PTMs: 2

When we stretch to 80+ PTMs, we add two names: Christy Mathewson and Roger Connor. Both were player-managers who played during the turn of the century and managed quite poorly. Connor only managed for part of one season: his team went 8-37. Mathewson managed for three years and posted a .482 winning percentage. However, that was good enough for the eighth best winning percentage among 80+ WAR PTMs.

Adding Mathewson and Connor to the mix don’t move the needle much: the record of Hall of Fame players turned managers with 80+ WAR is 6,486-6,302.

70 WAR Players Turned Managers

Record: 3,426-3,036
Average Number of Years Managed: 7.8
Number of 70 WAR PTMs: 6

This group adds the first player who started his career after 1960 and became a manager (Pete Rose). Rose, like the five others in this cohort, was a player-manager at one point during their playing career. Another similarity to their higher WAR brethren: four started their careers before 1895 and Frankie Frisch started his career in 1919.

Fred Clarke is the managerial star of this group and the only player, so far, who can challenge Anson for managerial supremacy. His .576 winning percentage spread over 19 seasons resulted in four pennants and one World Series.

That said, the group is pretty evenly split: Clarke, Rose and Frisch had .500+ winning percentages, while the other three (Bill Dahlen, Bob Caruthers and Pud Galvin) had sub .500 winning percentages. Caruthers and Galvin didn’t get any run as managers, going 23-59 combined. As a group, though, the 70 WAR PTMs are nearly 400 games above .500 and raise the stellar players turned manager’s record to 9,912-9,338.

60 WAR Players Turned Managers

Record: 2,873-3,056
Average Number of Years Managed: 5.6
Number of 60 WAR PTMs: 8

Thanks to Alan Trammell, Buddy Bell and Willie Randolph, we have added three more players to the list who started their careers after 1960, were worth at least 60 WAR and became managers. There are now four such players with Frank Robinson (began his career in 1956) just missing the cut. However they are a distinct minority. Of the 31 managers with at least 60 WAR, just seven began their playing careers after 1940. In fact, 13 began their careers before 1900; 20 began their careers before 1920; and 24 players began their careers before 1940.

Of the eight 60 WAR PTMs, just three were player managers and more began their careers after 1970 than before 1900. However, as a whole, this group didn’t make particularly good managers. They combined to go below .500, with only Buddy Bell, Yogi Berra and Joe Cronin having significant managerial careers. Collectively, they have just four pennants and five play-off appearances between them with no World Series victories.

50 WAR Players Turned Managers

Record: 8,215-7,859
Average Number of Years Managed: 4.9
Number of 50 WAR PTMs: 25

Expanding the pool to 50+s adds 25 players turned managers, 17 of whom were player-managers. Oddly, only Tony Perez and Joe Torre started their careers during or after 1960, while eight began their careers before 1900 and 11 began their careers between 1903 and 1932.

Torre stands out in this group, winning as many World Series as the others combined; however he does have just the sixth best winning percentage.

Lou Boudreau really holds the group back. While he managed for 16 seasons, the second most of the group behind Torre, his winning percentage was just .487 and he had only one play-off appearance (of course he did win the World Series).

Carried mostly by Torre, this group has an impressive win total, but an incredibly short average tenure.

Summation

It does appear that great players who became managers skewed mightily toward the early parts of baseball. In fact, 46 of the 56 players with at least 50 WAR who became managers began their careers before 1940. Not surprisingly, as these were some of the best players of their time, a large portion also served as player-managers.

Of the 57 players with 50+ WAR who became managers:

  • 21 began their careers before 1900;
  • 11 began their careers between 1901-1920;
  • 14 began their careers between 1922-1940;
  • Four began their careers between 1945-1959; and
  • Six began their careers between 1960-1977.


In addition:

  • 40 were player-managers
  • 12 managed for just one season
  • Five managed for two seasons
  • 11 managed for three seasons
  • 10 managed for five or six seasons; and
  • Eighth managed for 14 or more seasons.

Any player/Any era: Eric Davis

What he did: In 1997, the Baltimore Orioles signed Eric Davis, but he appeared in just 42 games because he was diagnosed with colon cancer. However, he beat the odds and returned that year, eventually hitting the game winning homer in game five of the ALCS (let’s avoid what happened in game six). It was one of his two hits that series.

The Orioles brought him back in 1998 and he batted .327/.388/.582 and recorded a hit in 30 consecutive games (tied for the 29th longest streak in MLB history). He also went 35/37 in SB attempts, the 27th highest SB percentage in a season since 1951 (min. 20 SBs). He was the lone bright spot for a losing team with every regular over 30 that was fresh off a fantastic 90 win season. In reality, 1998 might be the last season there was optimism in Baltimore.

That’s why I remember Davis. You should remember Davis for many more reasons.

There have been 17 seasons in MLB history during which a player hit 20 HRs and stole 50 bases. Davis owns two of them. He also has the fourth highest stolen base success percentage in MLB history (min. 100 steals). His percentage, 84.1%, is behind Tim Raines, Pokey Reese and Carlos Beltran.

Davis burst on the scene in 1986 as a 24-year-old, batting .277/.378/.523 with 27 HRs and 80 SBs. From 1986-1990, Davis averaged a .277/.371/.527 line with 30 HRs and 41 SBs.

In 1990, he homered off Dave Stewart in his first World Series at bat. He also made a diving attempt at a ball in game four. The dive resulted in a lacerated kidney. He had surgery on that and his knee that off-season.

He appeared in 89 games the following season, which began an injury plagued trend.

Davis was so beaten down by injuries that he briefly retired after the 1994 season. He eventually made it back to the bigs and had that last gasp of brilliance for the Orioles in 1998 before retiring a few years later.

Era he might have thrived in: Davis could play in any era, but he would absolutely dominate the 1960s. Specifically, the St. Louis Cardinals had a glaring hole in right field and the need for someone to take the baton from Stan Musial.

Why: With Stan the Man in the twilight of his career, the Cardinals would need someone to bolster the offense. Adding Davis to a potent mix of Ken Boyer, Curt Flood, Tim McCarver, Lou Brock, Orlando Cepeda and others to replace the weak hitting Mike Shannon would be a boon to a team that perennially finished around .500.

If you normalize the career of Eric Davis to the 1962 Cardinals, he hits .283/.375/.506 with 305 HRs and 386 SBs. Putting his peak years during that era would provide 34 HRs and 50 SBs on average a season.

Having Davis in the fold would also likely stop them from trading for Roger Maris in 1966, who batted just .258/.330/.392 with an 111 OPS+ in his two seasons there.

Of course this assumes Davis wouldn’t need to benefit from modern medicine like he did in the late 90s. At the least, his peak would soften the blow for Cardinals fans when Stan Musial retired.

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

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

Mike Krukow: The Polish Prince

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any Player/Any Era: Tony Phillips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retelling the Monty Stratton Story

Before there was Plaxico Burress, there was Monty Franklin Pierce Stratton (man, people knew how to name their kids back in the day! See: Tenace, Fury Gene).

Once upon a time, Stratton was, seemingly, a young promising pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. An All-star, Stratton compiled a 36-23 record by the time he was 26. He completed 62 of the 70 games he started and had a 3.71 ERA and 1.31 WHIP.

He did the bulk of his work in 1937 (164.2 IPs) and 1938 (186.1 IPs). In ’37, Stratton posted a sparkling 2.40 ERA with a 3.77 K/9 rate and 2.02 BB/9 rate. His BABIP was .254 and his FIP was 3.39. It seems Stratton wasn’t great, just a tad lucky.

That said, in ’38, he posted a .265 BABIP, a 3.96 K/9 rate and a 2.70 BB/9 rate. His ERA was 4.01 and his FIP was 4.31. It would have been interesting to see if he was one of those guys who posted low BABIPs and beat his FIP routinely. For what it’s worth, Jimmy Dykes “foresaw unlimited possibilities” for the youngster according to Harold Sheldon’s Finishing the Stratton Story in 1949’s Baseball Digest.

Alas, everything changed for Stratton on November 27, 1938. Stratton had handled guns since he was 10 and owned five, including a .22 caliber pistol. “Monty stuck the .22 in his holster, and thought he had it on ‘safety,’ but it wasn’t, and when he pulled the gun out of the holster…it went off right away,” said his brother Hardin. There are some reports that Stratton tripped and fell and the pistol went off.

Stratton spent 30 minutes crawling toward his family home and was rushed to a hospital 10 miles away. However, they couldn’t get the bullet out, so they took him to a hospital in Dallas six hours after he was shot. Apparently, that didn’t really matter as Stratton, incredibly unluckily, completely severed the popliteal artery which is right behind the knee. The doctors had to amputate the leg.

Five months after the accident, Stratton signed a three-year coaching contract with the White Sox to throw batting practice and coach first base.

Four years after the accident, Stratton pitched in the minors. While managing the Lubbock Hubbers, Stratton sent himself to the mound in relief several times. He threw 9 innings and gave up 19 hits and 17 runs. He didn’t stay manager long.
However, four years after that, he threw 218 innings for the Sherman Twins. He posted a 4.17 ERA on a wooden leg. He pitched 103 innings the following year for the Waco Dons and would pitch intermittently until 1953 – 15 years after the accident.

All told, he threw 814 minor league innings, 388 of them were after his leg was amputated.

Forgive me if this is all old news to you because you saw the 1949 movie, which featured cameos by Dykes, Bill Dickey and Gene Bearden, but my dad was barely born then.

Stratton died on September 29, 1982, at the age of 70 – almost 6 months exactly after I was born.

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Any player/Any era: Gene Tenace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The underrated Frank Tanana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did this happen?

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

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

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

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

Any player/Any era: Pedro Guerrero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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