Double the fun: Early Wynn and his late 300th victory

Regular contributor Joe Guzzardi recently began penning Double the fun, which looks at a famous doubleheader every Saturday. Today, Joe examines when a pitcher reached a career milestone during a sparsely-attended doubleheader.


When the Cleveland Indians’ Early Wynn took the mound to pitch the second game of a doubleheader against the Kansas City Athletics on July 13, 1963 only 13,565 fans were there.

Even though the teams were well on their way to disappointing seasons (both would end the year under .500 with the Indians in fifth place and the Athletics in eighth), the sparse crowd should have been larger because Wynn was seeking his 300th win.

Normally, when a pitcher goes after his milestone 300th victory, it’s a hyped up event. With Athletics’ attendance in the tank, as usual, owner Charlie Finley hoped for a better turn out. Fans generally want to be part of baseball history.

One variable, however, was beyond Finley’s control. Wynn was making his eighth attempt to rack up number 300. On September 8, 1962 while pitching for the Chicago White Sox, Wynn registered his 299th but failed in his three next starts. When the season ended, the White Sox released Wynn.

No team signed Wynn until his former Indians inked him for his 23rd major league season on May 31st, 1963. Five more failed efforts immediately followed.

When manager Birdie Tebbetts tapped a determined Wynn for the nightcap, he was 43 and plagued by chronic gout.

Watching anxiously from the dugout, Wynn saw his Indians lose the opener 6-5. The Athletics, led by the usual assortment of New York Yankee cast offs including Jerry Lumpe and Norm Seiburn, scored four runs in the first and two more in the eighth to lock up the win.

Then Wynn’s turn came. By all accounts including Wynn’s, it was ugly. Pitching the minimum five innings required for a victory, Wynn struggled before leaving the game with a slim 5-4 lead. In the bottom of the fourth, the A’s tagged Wynn for three runs on four hits: three singles by Jose Tartabull, Gino Cimoli, Ken Harrelson and a Lumpe double.

Relief pitcher Jerry Walker saved Wynn’s day when he tossed four shut-out innings and gave up only three hits.

Wynn’s line: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO

After the game, Wynn said he was glad to be pulled because “I might have fallen on my face. I was exhausted.”

Wynn’s career topped out with 300 wins. A week later, pitching in relief, Wynn was charged with his final defeat to close out his playing days with a 300-244 record and a 3.54 ERA.

In 1972, the Hall of Fame elected Wynn on his fourth ballot in large part because of his dominant days during his first Indian tour.

Originally signed by the Washington Senators when he was 17, Wynn went to the Indians in a 1948 trade along with first baseman Mickey Vernon. By 1954, Wynn was part of one of the most effective pitching staffs in history that recorded 111 regular season Indians’ wins: Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia, Bob Feller, Art Houtteman and in the bull pen, Don Mossi and Ray Narleski.

That year, Wynn led the league with 36 starts and 271 innings pitched and tied Lemon with 23 victories. In the World Series’ second game, Wynn pitched effectively and allowed the New York Giants only four hits over seven innings. Unfortunately, one of them was a two-run homer hit by pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes.

Traded to the Chicago White Sox at age of 39, Wynn led the 1959 “Go Go Sox” Sox with a league-leading 22 wins, 37 starts and 255 innings. His performance earned Wynn the Cy Young Award and third place Most Valuable Player finish behind teammates Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio.

By the end of the 1950s, Wynn had more strike outs (1,544) than any other major league pitcher in the decade.

Because of his competitiveness and notorious willingness to throw his blazing fastball high and tight even to, as Wynn liked to say:“his mother,” Sox manager Al Lopez summed Wynn’s importance: “If there was one game I absolutely had to win, Early would be my pitcher.”

Wynn also was a skilled batsman. A dangerous switch hitter, Wynn hit better than .270 five times with 17 home runs and 173 RBIs. Mangers often summoned Wynn to pinch hit. Once, Wynn delivered a grand slam.

Post-career, Wynn coached the Minnesota Twins and broadcast for the Toronto Blue Jays and the White Sox.  In 1999 after suffering a stroke, Wynn died in Florida.


Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at

The 10 Most Underrated Baseball Players of All-Time

Roberto Clemente: Almost criminally underrated and had he not died heroically in a plane crash in 1972, he’d be even less remembered. Despite amassing 3,000 hits, doing his best work at the plate in the 1960s when pitchers reigned supreme, and also being an outstanding right fielder, Clemente was not included in recent books I reviewed about the 25 greatest baseball players of all-time and the 20 greatest hitters.

Honus Wagner: In five or ten years, Alex Rodriguez will retire and debate will begin anew if he was the greatest shortstop ever. Some will say his power can’t be ignored, others will say the best is Derek Jeter who caused Rodriguez to shift to third base, and a few self-righteous sportswriters will probably pen columns saying Cal Ripken Jr. was more consistent– which is funny because Wagner lasted longer than any of those men and his .328 lifetime average and 3,420 hits is better too.

Tim Raines: Raines is Rickey Henderson if he played his best years in Montreal, had a well-documented drug problem, or hadn’t set the stolen base record.

Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker: A pair of great second basemen who were one-and-done Hall of Fame candidates, receiving less than five percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America their only time on the Cooperstown ballot, disqualifying them from future votes.

Ted Simmons: Bill James ranks Simmons, another one-and-done, as the 10th best catcher in baseball history. I have a hunch Simmons and Whitaker might be future Veterans Committee picks, but it’s no sure thing.

Kevin Brown: Fans may remember Brown’s $15 million annual contract from the Dodgers or his prickly personality or his being mentioned in the Mitchell Report after he retired. When Brown hits the Hall of Fame ballot later this year, he may become the best pitcher shunned by voters. If Albert Belle peaked with less than eight percent of the BBWAA vote, I don’t see Brown faring much better, no matter his 211 wins, string of dominance from the late 1990s, or his having one of the best Wins Above Replacement ratings of non-inducted pitchers.

Rick Reuschel: A 214-game winner who had at least 17 victories four years and made three All Star teams, Reuschel received exactly two Hall of Fame votes in 1997. This earns him the nod here over Bert Blyleven, another hurler long since underrated but one who should finally get a call from Cooperstown in January.

Jeff Reardon: I hear talk of Dan Quisenberry being a superb relief pitcher ignored by most Hall of Fame voters. Reardon has over 100 more saves, twice as many strikeouts, and played four more seasons than Quisenberry even as both men debuted in 1979. Like Quisenberry, Reardon was a one-and-done Hall of Fame candidate.

Sammy Sosa: Meet the most underrated player of the Steroid Era. Sosa was the Chicago Cubs in his prime, having a hand in more than 30 percent of their runs in 2001. The New York Times reported Sosa flunked a steroid test in 2003, making him one of many in his era who probably juiced. Then again, most did so with more protection in the batting order.

Related: A compilation of “Best Of” lists I’ve written here

Any player/Any era: Nate Colbert

What he did: Colbert hit 173 home runs in a 10-year career and was often the best player on historically bad teams. In perhaps his best season in 1972, Colbert had 38 home runs and 111 RBI for a San Diego Padres club that was a National League worst 58-95. Those Padres hit .227 as a team, had a .283 on-base percentage and scored 488 runs. I wrote here in a post last Friday that Colbert had a hand in 32.78 percent of San Diego’s runs in 1972.

Baseball was and is a team sport, and in order to thrive, players generally need help. Babe Ruth had Lou Gehrig and others, Willie Mays had Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda, and in recent years, Barry Bonds did a lot of his best work with Matt Williams or Jeff Kent batting near him. It’s one reason lone wolves like Colbert and Wally Berger intrigue me. If Colbert had the talent to put up good numbers with almost no help, just imagine what he might have accomplished with a solid supporting cast.

Era he might have thrived in: I played around with the stat converter for Colbert’s career numbers on and found his totals would have spiked on the Philadelphia Athletics, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees powerhouses of the 1920s and ’30s. For our purposes, let’s suspend disbelief about how the color of Colbert’s skin as an African American would have kept him from the majors. On the 1929 A’s, Colbert might have soared to spectacular heights.

Why: That Philadelphia club won 104 games, beat the Chicago Cubs in five games in the World Series, and was chronicled in an August 1996 cover story in Sports Illustrated as “The Team That Time Forgot.” The story suggested that those A’s, not the 1927 Yankees were the greatest team of all-time. I’m not sure if I believe that, but I think Colbert may have done his greatest work in Philadelphia.

Other teams in history scored more runs than the 901 that the 1929 A’s had, such as the 1931 Yankees who scored 1,067, but Colbert would have been in the same batting lineup with the A’s as Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx and Al Simmons. And unlike Boston and New York, which had unfriendly confines for a right-handed hitter like Colbert, the A’s home, Shibe Park, boasted a 312-foot left field short porch from 1926 until 1930.

The stat converter has Colbert from 1972 leading the 1929 A’s with 47 home runs and also racking up 160 RBI and a .296 batting average. My guess is that Colbert would have finished with better than 50 home runs and a .300 batting average if he’d learned to take advantage of that short porch. There’s no telling what his presence in the lineup could have done for Foxx and Simmons who each hit better than .350 with 30-plus home runs, surrounded by a couple of outfielders remembered today only by baseball history buffs.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides the one he played in.

Point-counterpoint: Should the Hall of Fame cap membership?

I am pleased to present a first-ever point-counterpoint here. Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor, proposes a cap on Hall of Fame membership. I have other views. Thus, we are each taking a side.


I have a proposal that makes the Baseball Hall of Fame annual voting more interesting and would make the Hall a truly select place reserved exclusively for the game’s greatest players.

Cap the Hall of Fame membership at a specific number—let’s say 300 players.

Once membership hits 300, the total becomes frozen by position. If there are 20 first basemen, then that’s the maximum.

When the upper limit of allowable players is met, every year the Baseball Writers’ Association of America votes to elect a player, another must be voted out, to make room for the new inductee.

Here’s the crux of my plan. If writers don’t agree on who exits, then no one enters Cooperstown! Thus the Hall remains only for the absolutely best players who ever took the field.

My variation also makes the annual selection process more interesting. Who gets in? Who goes out?

Earlier this week the Hall inducted Andre Dawson. Using my standards, for Dawson to be ratified, one outfielder must go. Maybe it would be the Cards’ Chick Hafey or perhaps the Cubs’ Billy Williams?

The debate surrounding the election becomes twice as intense since two questions would be considered.

As years pass, the players remaining among the 300 would be constantly upgraded. No matter how much time goes by, the BBWAA would never kick out Babe Ruth, Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle.

Obviously, under the current system, each player added makes the Hall less exclusive. What began in 1936 as an elite club with five members is now a watered down mishmash.

Currently mentioned as Hall candidates are Roberto Alomar, Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff and John Smoltz.

All are great. But if elected, fans would agree that they represent second tier players by comparison, not worthy of mention in the same breath as Ruth, Williams or Mantle.

Don’t worry about what will become of those who have to step aside.

Their plaques would move to a Cooperstown wing constructed to honor their baseball contributions with a notation of their years as “active” HOF members.

-Joe Guzzardi



It’s true that less-than-stellar players occasionally make it into Cooperstown. Frankie Frisch helped enshrine former teammates like Chick Hafey, Jesse Haines and Ross Youngs when he was head of the Veterans Committee. For reasons that still defy logic more than 50 years later, the Baseball Writers Association of America chose to induct Rabbit Maranville in 1954 and pass on Joe DiMaggio, who needed another year to earn a Cooperstown plaque. And it seems a little odd to me that Travis Jackson and Babe Ruth have busts hanging in the same Hall of Fame.

It’s an interesting idea to consider capping membership and removing marginal Hall of Famers like Hafey, Jackson, and Maranville as space is needed for new, better members. But I’m against it. It doesn’t seem fair to the players removed, and beyond this, I ask: What’s wrong with having a large Hall of Fame?

One of the few advantages baseball still has over other major sports is its history, which goes back in competitive form to at least the 19th century. Cooperstown is a testament to that long and gloried life. Almost everything good about baseball is in the Hall of Fame.

Even as there are just over 200 players enshrined now, I don’t see anything wrong with eventually having a 1,000-player Hall of Fame if necessary, provided these men meet the subjective (and admittedly varying) standards for induction. A larger Hall of Fame will tell me baseball has that many more solid — if not great — players. I think that’s something to celebrate, not bemoan.

There’s also the human element to consider with any argument that proposes stripping old players of their honors and saying they were Hall of Famers only for a set time, even if they’re still in a token part of the museum. Being enshrined in Cooperstown may be the highlight of a man’s life. In his induction speech on July 25, former manager Whitey Herzog called making the Hall of Fame, “Like going to heaven before you die.”

What would it be like to get kicked out of heaven?

-Graham Womack

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Bert Blyleven

Claim to fame: Blyleven finished with 3,701 strikeouts, 287 wins and 60 shutouts, ninth-best in baseball history. I named Blyleven one of the 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame and included him in a poll of players yet to be enshrined. As of this writing, Blyleven is the only player with more than 75 percent of the vote in my poll, besting others like Roberto Alomar, Gil Hodges, and Pete Rose.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Blyleven has made 13 appearance on the writers ballot and has two more years of eligibility remaining.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Before I offer whether I think Blyleven belongs in Cooperstown, let me say first that I think he will almost certainly be enshrined. Blyleven is one of 12 players who have received at least 50 percent of the vote in their 13th year of eligibility from the Baseball Writers Association of America. These players are:

  • Rabbit Maranville, 62.1 percent, 1953
  • Bill Terry, 72.3 percent, 1953
  • Sam Rice, 50.6 percent, 1962
  • Red Ruffing, 70.1 percent, 1964
  • Ralph Kiner, 75.4 percent, 1975
  • Enos Slaughter, 68.9 percent, 1978
  • Gil Hodges, 60.1 percent, 1981
  • Jim Bunning, 63.3 percent, 1989
  • Orlando Cepeda, 57.2 percent, 1992
  • Bruce Sutter, 76.9 percent, 2006
  • Jim Rice, 63.5 percent, 2007
  • Blyleven, 74.2 percent, 2010

Of the group, only Hodges and Blyleven don’t have a Cooperstown plaque. I suspect Hodges might eventually, courtesy of the Veterans Committee and that Blyleven probably will get inducted on his next go-round with the writers in January.

The question is less if Blyleven gets in than when and how. The writers inducted six of the players, Maranville, Terry, Ruffing, Kiner, Sutter and Jim Rice, while the veterans tabbed Bunning, Cepeda, Sam Rice, and Slaughter. Blyleven reminds me of fellow power pitcher Bunning, albeit with better stats and less polarizing political views. Maybe that’s enough for the writers. Interestingly, Bunning got an equal percentage of the vote in his 12th year on the ballot that Blyleven got in his 13th year, on similarly weak ballots. Bunning then saw a drop in his votes, exhausted his 15 years of eligibility, and was enshrined at the first opportunity for the Veterans Committee.

Perhaps Blyleven will also need the veterans, though like I said, I think he gets in with the writers. Rafael Palmeiro is going to hit the ballot this December, he will be shunned, and the writers will need someone to honor. They may turn to Jeff Bagwell, who will be newly eligible as well and looks like a first ballot Hall of Famer. But I think Blyleven should see a boost as well.

I don’t know if I personally would honor Blyleven. Like Nolan Ryan, he lost a lot of games. It’s also hard to picture him as being dominant enough on any one team to denote him wearing their cap on his plaque. Then again, the same can be said for Dave Winfield or any number of Veterans Committee selections over the years. And he’s a better pitcher than a lot of men already in Cooperstown.

There’s something else worth mentioning here. In a classic scene in Bull Durham, Kevin Costner’s character bitterly says that the difference between a .250 and a .300 hitter is one hit a week. In Blyleven’s case, the difference between early enshrinement and where we sit now may have been about one win a year. His average full season, as listed on Baseball-Reference is 14-12 with a 3.31 ERA. If he’d averaged 15 wins, Blyleven would have 309 career victories and would have been inducted in about the same amount of time as someone like Don Sutton.

Sutton won 324 games, played on far better teams than Blyleven by and large, and still needed five tries on the writers ballot to earn his plaque. In fact, Sutton is one of several 300-game winners who were far from first ballot inductions, but ultimately no shot to be overlooked. Even in the modern game, 300 victories still usually equals eventual enshrinement, no matter what.

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

A visit to the boneyard

I grew up in Sacramento, not far from the Old City Cemetery and a parking lot across the street where a Pacific Coast League ballpark once stood. Both places have long since stoked my imagination, so I was excited to hear the local chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research would be sponsoring a baseball-themed cemetery tour on July 24. In fact, I looked forward to it for much of the summer. I expected tons of anecdotes and the chance for me to wax poetic about a graveyard with headstones dating to 1850. But the most interesting things I heard Saturday were among the living.

While we stood under the glaring sun that turns Sacramento into a microwave every summer, listening to a couple of our own talk about 19th century ballplayers buried nearby, a well-dressed woman approached. It was Susan Fornoff, our scheduled speaker for a luncheon to follow the tour. Fornoff covered the Oakland A’s for the Sacramento Bee and is most known for being the first female reporter admitted into locker rooms after games. She wrote a book some years ago, Lady in the Locker Room and said Saturday that a Hollywood producer and screenwriter are developing it and are interested in Katherine Heigl for the lead role. They’re thinking a baseball version of The Devil Wears Prada.

Before Fornoff spoke of this and more, we had the tour. The highlight for me was seeing a new headstone that Sacramento chapter member Alan O’Connor purchased for Billy Newbert, a former California League ballplayer. Newbert played for the Sacramento Altas in the 1880s, later ran a hardware store at 17th and J Street (where a record store stands today) and died in 1944. In researching his 2008 book on Sacramento baseball history, Gold on the Diamond, O’Connor discovered that Newbert lay in an unmarked Old City Cemetery grave. He paid $280 for a flat marble headstone and was later reimbursed by SABR.

Beyond that, I didn’t get much into the tour, which proved short because of our 1 p.m. deadline to be at the restaurant. I’ve been in the cemetery many times, and between the historic section and an adjoining modern half, it can be easy to lose one’s self there. We barely scratched the surface. No one mentioned the most interesting baseball anecdote I know regarding the cemetery: The old ballpark across the street, Edmonds Field was so close that children used to gather amidst the headstones to catch foul balls.

Thereafter, we adjourned to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet walking distance from the cemetery, and Fornoff spoke. She fielded the obligatory questions about being a woman in the locker room, recounting how a man once asked her which player was most-endowed (for contrast, imagine that question being asked to a male beat reporter.) Fornoff said she refused to answer besides to say Reggie Jackson thought he was.

I noticed Fornoff seemed uneasy talking about the locker room in general, so I went in a different direction. In April 2008, I interviewed Jose Canseco, and the former A’s slugger told me his oft-repeated assertion that he was blackballed from baseball. It sounded a little improbable, so I asked Fornoff what she thought. She agreed with Canseco and said Dave Kingman was blackballed, too. Kingman was with Oakland in 1986 when he sent Fornoff a rat in the press box. The A’s let him go thereafter, no team picked him up, and he later won money in a suit against Major League Baseball. Fornoff’s take: “I think baseball can collude pretty easily.”

I asked Fornoff if she’d do an interview here if I read her book. She said she would. I have a stack of baseball books to conquer but will add this one to the queue. In a perfect world, it leads to an interview with Heigl.

Related: More posts about SABR and other clubs that I’m in

Double the fun: How to pitch a no-hitter– and lose

I’m pleased to present a guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor here. Joe recently began writing Double the fun, which looks at a famous doubleheader each Saturday, and today, he examines the only time the following has happened in baseball history: a combined no-hitter, in a doubleheader, that ended in defeat.


The first time I read the headline, I couldn’t believe it. And now reading it again forty-three years later, it’s still hard to fathom even though I know the game is etched in baseball history lore: Two Oriole Pitchers Hold Tigers Hitless but Lose, 2-1, New York Times, May 1, 1967

How was it possible for the Baltimore Orioles to lose a no hitter? And how could the Detroit Tigers score 2 runs on zero hits?

The simple and amazing answer is that in his 8-2/3 innings left hander Steve Barber, the losing starting pitcher, yielded ten walks, hit two batters and threw a wild pitch.

As St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch famously said after he became the New York Giants’ play-by-play announcer: “Oh, those bases on balls.”

To add fuel to the fire, slick-fielding Mark Belanger, playing second base, made his only error of the year at that position which allowed the winning run to score in the top of the ninth.

When 26,884 fans turned out at Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium for an early season doubleheader to watch Barber and Jim Palmer match up against the Tigers’ Earl Wilson and Joe Sparma, they had no idea the screwy game they were about to witness.

On his fateful day, Barber entered the top of the ninth clinging to a 1-0 lead before the wheels quickly feel off.

Barber issued back-to-back walks to Norm Cash and weak hitting Ray Oyler.

After Wilson sacrificed the runners to second and third, Barber got Willie Horton to foul out before throwing a wild pitch that allowed pinch runner Dick Tracewski to score the tying run.

Then Barber issued his tenth and final walk of the afternoon to Mickey Stanley, a .210 hitter that year. Imagine Frisch and Oriole manager Hank Bauer pulling their hair!

Enter Stu Miller to face Don Wert who promptly lined a grounder up the middle that shortstop Luis Aparicio fielded. But Belanger dropped Aparicio’s toss which allowed another Tiger pinch runner, Jake Wood, to score the winning run.

Barber’s line: 8 2/3 IP; 0 H; 2 R; 1 ER; 10 BB; 3 SO

Barber and Miller finished with one of just nine combined no-hitters in baseball history. Of this group, only one other ended in defeat, a 2-0 losing gem by Blue Moon Odom and Francisco Barrios for the Oakland A’s against the Chicago White Sox on July 28, 1976. And just one other combined no-no came as part of a doubleheader, Babe Ruth and Ernie Shore’s 9-0 blanking of the Washington Senators on May 29, 1917.

Hours after Barber and Miller’s effort, the Orioles played their night cap and lost that game as well, 6-4. Palmer had nothing. The Tigers led by a Cash home run roughed up the future first ballot Hall of Fame inductee for six runs in the top of the fifth to send Palmer to an early shower.

Palmer’s line: 5 IP, 6 H, 6 R; 6 ER; 4 BB; 3 SO

Despite an aggregate 21 bases on balls during the two games, the playing times were a tidy 2:38 and 2:30.

Besides seeing one of baseball’s most unusual games, fans had an opportunity to watch five future Hall of Fame players. Along with Aparicio and Palmer, others included Al Kaline as well as Frank and Brooks Robinson.

By 1967, the year of his dubious contribution to baseball history, Barber’s career was on the wane. Signed by Baltimore in 1957 when he was 18, Barber eventually became a productive part of the 1966 World Series Champion Orioles when he started 22 games and went 10-5 with a 2.30 ERA.

Although my recollection of Barber is that of a journeyman who also pitched for the Yankees, Cubs, Braves, Angels and Giants, at his best he won 18 and 20 games in 1961 and 1963. Barber, who was also chosen for the 1963 and 1966 All Star Game, was the first modern day Oriole to win 20.

In all, Barber racked up 121 lifetime victories and finished in the top ten in ERA and wins during three separate seasons. Today, assuming he had a shrewd agent, those stats might earn Barber somewhere in the range of $8-$10 million annually.

Barber, an Oriole Hall of Fame member, died in 2007.


Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at

New stat: Runs Accounted For – RAF

Here’s a trivia question question that may stump even the most ardent of baseball fans and historians: What’s an offensive feat measured over the course of a season that Wally Berger, Nate Colbert, and Sammy Sosa have accomplished and Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, and other immortals have not?

Answer: Colbert, Berger, and Sosa are among a small group of players who had a hand in at least 30 percent of their team’s runs in a season.

I call this stat Runs Accounted For (RAF) and it’s fairly easy to calculate. Just add a player’s RBI and run totals for a season, subtract home runs since those count double, and divide by the total number of runs his team scores. From there, multiply by 100 to get the percentage of runs a player accounts for.

To be clear, RAF proposes that a player has a hand in any run he bats in or scores himself. While this admittedly leads to some double counting among teammates, since one player can score on another man’s RBI, I think it’s a good way to make relative comparisons between players of different eras and compensate for those who played on worse teams than others.

RAF rates players, past and present, who were most-indispensable to helping their teams score runs. The stat also rewards good base running, an underrated offensive skill and correlates strongly to OPS, a combination of on-base and slugging percentage. In fact, I used the lists of OPS leaders to seek out possible candidates for here.

It quickly became apparent in calculating RAF that while many players have accounted for at least 25 percent of their team’s runs in a season, few have cracked 30 percent. I’m uncertain why this is. I know of 18 players who have done it a total of 29 times. They are as follows, in order of highest RAF:

Player Year RAF Runs RBI HR Team W/L Team Runs
1 Ted Williams 1942 36.53% 141 137 36 Red Sox 93-59 761
2 Honus Wagner 1908 34.02% 100 109 10 Pirates 98-56 585
3 Babe Ruth 1919 33.33% 103 114 29 Red Sox 66-71 564
4 Nate Colbert 1972 32.78% 87 111 38 Padres 58-95 488
5 Wally Berger 1935 32.52% 91 130 34 Braves 38-115 575
6 Ty Cobb 1909 32.13% 116 107 9 Tigers 98-54 666
7 Ty Cobb 1911 32.01% 147 127 8 Tigers 89-65 831
8 Nap Lajoie 1901 31.8% 145 125 14 Athletics 74-62 805
9 Chuck Klein 1933 31.795% 101 120 28 Phillies 60-92 607
10 Ty Cobb 1917 31.77% 107 102 6 Tigers 78-75 639
11 Tris Speaker 1914 31.75% 101 90 4 Red Sox 91-62 589
12 George Sisler 1919 31.71% 96 83 10 Browns 67-72 533
13 Sammy Sosa 2001 31.15% 146 160 64 Cubs 88-74 777
14 Ty Cobb 1915 30.98% 144 99 3 Tigers 100-54 778
15 Chuck Klein 1931 30.85% 121 121 31 Phillies 66-88 684
16 Joe Jackson 1912 30.72% 121 90 3 Naps 75-78 677
17 Bill Nicholson 1943 30.696% 95 128 29 Cubs 74-79 632
18 Stan Musial 1948 30.59% 135 131 39 Cardinals 85-69 742
19 Hank Aaron 1963 30.57% 121 130 44 Braves 84-78 677
20 Chuck Klein 1930 30.51% 158 170 40 Phillies 52-102 944
21 Babe Ruth 1921 30.49% 177 171 59 Yankees 98-55 948
22 Ty Cobb 1907 30.45% 97 119 5 Tigers 92-58 693
23 Dale Murphy 1985 30.38% 118 111 37 Braves 66-96 632
24 Home Run Baker 1912 30.295% 116 130 10 Athletics 90-62 779
25 Nap Lajoie 1910 30.292% 94 76 4 Naps 71-81 548
26 Ty Cobb 1918 30.25% 83 64 3 Tigers 55-71 476
27 Honus Wagner 1905 30.2% 114 101 6 Pirates 96-57 692
28 George Sisler 1920 30.11% 137 122 19 Browns 76-77 797
29 Jeff Bagwell 1994 30.07% 104 116 39 Astros 66-49 602

Several greats never cracked 30 percent, including: Barry Bonds, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, Ken Griffey Jr., Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, and Al Simmons, whose careers I examined year-by-year on Baseball-Reference. If anyone has a player they think qualifies, let me know, and if necessary, I’d be happy to add him here.

In general, RAF appears to favor three types of players:

  1. Lone guns on bad teams
  2. Speedy contact hitters with sizable RBI and run totals, but few home runs
  3. Those greats who would have shined no matter the era

The stat is less rewarding to a DiMaggio or a Gehrig, who had the misfortune — at least for our purposes here — to play on star-packed clubs. Gehrig may have the most runs ever accounted for in one season, with 301 in 1931, though that was just over 28 percent of the 1,067 his Yankees amassed. Most years, Ruth and Gehrig drove each others percentages down. Same thing for Foxx and Simmons, as well as Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer. Enos Slaughter and Musial each just missed accounting for 30 percent of the Cardinals’ runs in 1946.

Interestingly, Bonds accounted for more runs before he (probably) started using steroids in 1999. Bonds had a hand in more than 200 runs three times in his career: 1993, 1996 and 1998, one more reason he might have been better clean. The younger Bonds also won Gold Gloves which probably saved some runs, too.

Of the players who accounted for 30 percent or more of their teams’ runs at least once, I don’t know what’s more impressive: That Cobb accomplished the feat six times in a twelve-season stretch or that Ruth and Lajoie did it for multiple teams. More astonishing? Ted Williams’ 1942 season, where he accounted for 36.53 percent of Boston’s runs and won the Triple Crown, wasn’t enough for American League Most Valuable Player honors. The award went to Joe Gordon, who accounted for just 21.6 percent of the American League champion Yankees’ runs and didn’t even lead his team in the stat, finishing behind Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller.

Related: A compilation of quirky stats and big crazy ideas I’ve introduced here

Any player/Any era: Josh Hamilton

What he did: Lots of fans may know the story of Josh Hamilton, the 1999 No. 1 overall draft pick who spent many years out of baseball battling drug addiction before getting clean, returning to the game, and emerging as a legitimate Triple Crown threat for the Texas Rangers. What may get forgotten, amidst Hamilton’s .353 batting average, 23 home runs and 70 RBI, as of this writing, is that in high school, he was also an ace pitcher.

Era he might have thrived in: Suppose Hamilton came of age in a different era. In the early days of baseball, players who could both pitch and hit were often used on the mound first. This changed somewhere around the time the Boston Red Sox discovered that even though Babe Ruth pitched excellently, he was more valuable playing in the field everyday. I can only imagine the heights Hamilton may have reached if he, too, was a Deadball Era pitcher.

Why: Perhaps no other ballplayer in history had a better all-around high school season than what Hamilton accomplished his senior year. Besides being at a .556 batting average with 11 home runs, 34 RBI and just four strikeouts in 63 at-bats, Hamilton was sporting a 7-1 record as a pitcher and had struck out 83 batters in 47 innings when Sports Illustrated featured him in its May 17, 1999 issue.

At the time, Hamilton was a month away from being the first pick in the draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who passed on taking highly-touted second pick Josh Beckett (not to mention Albert Pujols, who went in the 13th round that year.) Hamilton’s coach told Sports Illustrated, “Can you imagine someone so good at so much that he could be a lefthander throwing 96 miles per hour—and not be wanted as a pitcher?”

It used to be if a player came up with pitching ability, he did that first. Stan Musial began as a minor league pitcher. So did Tris Speaker, who went 2-7 in the Texas League in 1906 and Ted Williams, signed as a pitcher-outfielder to the old San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League. Interestingly, Hamilton never pitched in the minors, and though Williams and Speaker each made a relief appearance in the majors (Speaker in 1914, Williams in 1940), Hamilton has yet to do so, not even in a blowout.

A generation before Musial and Williams, more players started out as major league hurlers before converting to position players. Besides Ruth, Rube Bressler and Smoky Joe Wood were also bright, young Deadball Era hurlers. Each blew out his arm and wound up as a light-hitting outfielder. I included Wood and Bressler in a post I wrote in May, The 10 best pitchers turned position players in baseball.

Curious about why more players pitched before becoming hitters in the early days, I emailed John Thorn, a prolific baseball writer and an expert on the game before the modern era. Thorn replied to me:

Look to Little League today, where the best player typically is the pitcher … who also bats cleanup. When the average level of playing skill was lower, as it surely was in the earliest days of the game, pitchers might be expected to be solid batters as well. Look at John Wad, Hoss Radbourn, Guy Hecker, Bob Caruthers … I could go on. Ruth’s transition was the ultimate one, of course, but it came at the tail end of a long established trend. Fewer pitchers made the conversion after Ruth than before, and with less success.

In terms of career trajectory, I most liken Hamilton to Lefty O’Doul as each man took long sabbaticals after early struggles. O’Doul struggled as a relief pitcher for parts of four seasons before leaving the majors in 1923 at 26, going to the PCL, and learning to hit. He returned to the majors in 1928, nearly batted .400 the following year and retired with a .349 batting average, fourth-best all-time.

I’m guessing Hamilton would have fared better than O’Doul, Bressler or Wood as a pitcher and that he had the raw talent to win 20 games in the Deadball Era. While I doubt Hamilton would have surpassed Ruth, who has a 2.28 career ERA, I suspect he may have amassed sufficient pitching numbers for the Hall of Fame. In fact, he might have had a better shot at Cooperstown than he has now. Like O’Doul, I think Hamilton’s career is going to be too short for Hall of Fame standards.

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

A treasure map for the Pirates

I’m pleased to present a guest column from Joe Guzzardi, a Wednesday and Saturday contributor here. Today, he looks at the famous struggles of his hometown team.


Here’s the problem for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team I’ve supported for more than half a century.

The Bucs, who once inspired, are closing in on their 18th consecutive losing season, and no one’s surprised anymore.

Preseason forecasts are always grim—last place. In April, its cold and kids are still in school. No one wants to freeze to death watching bad baseball.

The Pirates‘ dilemma is compounded since the successful NHL Penguins hit their stride in April on the way to its annual Stanley Cup run.

Why go to PNC Park to watch the Pirates get hammered in a meaningless game when you can stay home to watch the Penguins on your flat screen in the warmth of your living room?

As baseball begins, the Pirates drift toward the cellar fulfilling the gloomy predictions.

By May, the Pirates are the tenth story on the sport page after two or three about the Pens, a couple of items about the Steelers, the latest major golf tournament news, the Kentucky Derby and the most recent sport scandal (Tiger Woods, Lebron James, Ben Roethlisberger, or Rick Pittino—where did he go anyway?)

Early season Pirate newspaper stories heap scorn on the Bucs for their continued futility, thus further diminishing any possible fan interest.

By the All Star Game, the Pirates are 20 games under .500 and solidly in last place. All the dire spring training forecasts have come true. The Bucco season is over.

During what should be the baseball season’s height, local fans turn their attention to the Steelers and Pitt football and basketball, both projected as national Top Ten teams. Save for Pirate games that offer fireworks or concerts, no one goes.

Since .500 is at least two years away, my question is how to save the Pirates from total irrelevance while regenerating a modicum interest among the few remaining fans.

I have three suggestions:

1) Trade manager John Russell for one of the two Pirate announcers: beloved 1971 World Series hero Steve Blass or better-than-you-remember former major league pitcher Bob Walk (105-81)

Debate swirls around  Russell. Should he or shouldn’t he be fired? Some say Russell’s laid back personality isn’t right for the young Pirates while his defenders wonder what he could do with the team’s limited talent.

By trading Russell, the Pirates could see if the players respond better to other leadership. At the same time, the broadcasting booth would get Russell’s experience, i.e. “With Garrett Jones at the plate, I always…”

It’s been done before. In 1960, the perennial cellar-dwelling Chicago Cubs installed broadcaster Lou Boudreau as manager and put its then-pilot Charlie Grimm behind the microphone.

2) Take another page from the Cubs and rotate Pirate coaches monthly into the manager’s seat

After the 1960 “broadcaster for manager” move landed the Cubs in the second-division for the 14th straight year, the North Siders employed the “college of coaches” during 1961 and 1962 that switched managers on a irregular schedule.

“Managers are expendable,” Cubs owner Phil Wrigley said. “I believe there should be relief managers just like relief pitchers.”

Here’s how it could work for the Pirates: In April, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan takes the helm; in May, third base coach Tony Beasley; in June, bench coach, Gary Varsho, and so on.

3) Make a late season acquisition

Normally only contenders add a crucial veteran to their roster. But the questions facing the lowly Pirates are whether it will edge out the Houston Astros for fifth place in the NL Central or if it will fall below the Baltimore Orioles as 2010’s statistically worst team.

I’m thinking Pedro Martinez would give Corsair fans a rare opportunity to see a future Hall of Famer in Bucco black and gold. I’d expect Martinez could do double duty, namely start and serve as pitching coach to the young Pirates.

My wrinkle is that Martinez should pitch only on Sunday. In 1942, Chicago White Sox Ted Lyons became “Sunday Ted” and pitched on that day alone. Once, Lyons reeled off seven complete games in a row to the delight of his fans who packed Comiskey Park to watch the crafty Hall of Fame veteran.

Full disclosure: Only the Lyons experiment worked.

During three years of manager experimentation, the Cubs finished close to the cellar every year. Boudreau was no better than Grimm and five Cub managers couldn’t produce more wins than one.

Still, I like the idea of buzz about the Pirates during August and September. Once again, fans would be talking about baseball.


Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at