Double the fun: Ralph Kiner’s Historic 1947 Doubleheader: Bombs Away!

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi


Last Sunday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports page story about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 10-inning 5-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds was on page 14. Preceding it were accounts of high school and college football, the Steelers, the Penguins, the U.S. Open tennis tournament, the upcoming basketball season, horse racing, Reggie Bush, lacrosse and assorted other minor events.

In Pittsburgh, “Dog days” has a different meaning. The phrase refers to the season’s last month when Pirates baseball mercifully ends.

Today’s Buccos remind lifelong fans of the horrible 1950-1955 Pirates known as “Rickey’s Rinky-Dinks,” a play on general manager Branch Rickey’s name and the teams under his direction.

That’s not entirely fair to Rickey since the Corsairs were National League cellar dwellers for years before he arrived on the scene. The one bright spot who kept Pirates fans glued in their Forbes Field seats even as the losses mounted: Ralph Kiner

During his first seven seasons, Kiner led or tied for the National League in home runs, an unmatched feat.

Kiner also achieved a still-standing major league record when in 1947 he hit eight home runs in four consecutive games. Four of them came during a September 11th double header. During the preceding month, Kiner previewed his prowess when he hit seven home runs during a similar four game stretch.

Kiner started his tear on September 10th against the New York Giants when his two home runs off Larry Jansen (18-5) accounted for the Bucs only runs in 3-2 defeat.

During the next day’s double dip, with the Boston Braves in town, Kiner hit one in the opener off losing pitcher Johnny Sain (19-10) to help lift the Pirates to a 4-3, 13 inning triumph. In the nightcap, Kiner slugged two more off starter Bill Voiselle and another off losing pitcher Walt Lanfranconni (4-4) for a 10-8 Pirate sweep.

Kiner wrapped up his power-packed four days when on September 12th, he blasted two more off Red Barrett (11-12) to propel the Bucs to a 4-3 victory.

Kiner’s four-day line: AB 16; R 8; H 10; HR 8; RBI 12

Over his ten-year career, Kiner hit 369 home runs for an average of one every 14.11 at bats, eighth best all-time. Historians calculate that if Kiner had played in a more hitter friendly park than the monstrous Forbes Field and had not also lost nearly three seasons serving in World War II, he would easily have hit 500.

From 1948 through 1953, Kiner played in six consecutive All Star Games before being ignominiously dumped off to the Chicago Cubs for the proverbial bunch of broken bats, namely Toby Atwell, Bob Schultz, Preston Ward, George Freese, Bob Addis, Gene Hermanski and $150,000 cash.

Kiner and Rickey had been locked in a salary dispute all season before the notorious cheapskate famously told the slugger: “We finished last with you and we can finish last without you.”

Although Kiner hit 50 home runs during his season and a half with the Cubs and another 18 with the Cleveland Indians in 1955, his most productive years were over.

In 1961 Kiner began a new career as a Chicago White Sox broadcaster before moving to the New York Mets where he joined Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy. One of the most popular features of Mets’ broadcasts was “Kiner’s Korner” where Kiner might call Darryl Strawberry “Darryl Thornberry” or say: “If Casey Stengel were alive, he’d be spinning in his grave.”

Kiner, although ailing, still appears from time to time making him the only Mets’ announcer to be part of the broadcast team since the Mets first game.

Post-career, Kiner has received many accolades. In 1975, the Hall of Fame elected Kiner. Twelve years later, the Pirates retired his number 4. The Sporting News placed Kiner on its 1999 “Top 100 Greatest Player’s” list.

Just inside the entrance to PNC Park, which opened in 2001, a statue of Kiner’s hand holding a bat honors his seven leading home run seasons. Then, in 2007, the Mets held “Ralph Kiner Night” with Tom Seaver giving a commemorative speech. Also present were Bob Feller, former Met manager Yogi Berra and the late Ernie Harwell. (See it here.)

Billy Meyer, one of Kiner’s Pirates managers, had only good things to say about his star outfielder: “During all the time I managed the Pirates, there was never a time that Kiner didn’t do everything I asked him to for the general good of the club. No matter what I said it was perfectly okay with him.”


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

A Rose by any other name– other players barred from baseball

Last weekend, Pete Rose got a one-day reprieve from his lifetime ban from baseball so he could celebrate the 25-year anniversary of breaking the all-time hit record. It was a nice gesture from Major League Baseball, though too little, too late for a player punished cruelly. Rose got banned in 1989 for betting on baseball and is among a small group of players formally barred. Every so often, a ballplayer is informally shunned as well.

Here are four men who were never officially banished, but effectively may have been:

Mike Marshall: In March 1981, Jim Bouton issued a follow-up to his bestseller, Ball Four. In it, he wrote of his former Seattle Pilots teammate who had been released by the Twins at the end of the 1980 season and not yet picked up by another team. Bouton wrote:

Why would the Twins release a guy they still had to pay for two more years, who had won or saved 31 games for them as recently as 1978? And why hasn’t any other team signed this 39-year-old physical fitness expert who could probably pitch for another five years?

Well, because baseball hasn’t changed that much. Everybody but the Baseball Commissioner suspects the owners want to keep Marshall, a militant leader, out of the Player’s Association. His release keeps him off the very important joint study committee working on the question of free agent compensation. Also, Marshall has been heard to say that when Marvin Miller retires, he would like a shot at Marvin’s job. If there’s anyone the owners fear more than Marvin, it’s Mike.

Marshall finally found a team to sign him for 1981 on August 19, weeks after the strike that year ended. It doesn’t seem coincidental to me that Marshall was team-less before, which likely kept him out of strike negotiations. Despite going 3-2 with a 2.61 ERA for the New York Mets for the rest of the season, Marshall was released in October and gone from baseball.

Carl Furillo: In another baseball classic, The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn detailed the lives of former Brooklyn Dodger greats, about a decade beyond their careers. Kahn located the former rightfielder installing elevator doors in the old World Trade Center, then under construction.

The Dodgers released Furillo at 38 in 1960, and he sued because he was injured at the time and the club refused to pay the balance of his contract, which violated its terms. While the legal matter was pending, Furillo wrote to 18 teams in the spring of 1961 offering to pinch-hit or play. No one signed him.

Kahn wrote:

If one thinks of blacklist in terms of the old McCarthyism when the three television networks in concert refused to employ writers or actors with a so-called radical past, then Carl Furillo was not blacklisted. As far as anyone can learn, the owners of the eighteen major league clubs operating in 1961 did not collectively refuse to hire him. What they did was react in a patterned way. Here was one more old star who wanted to pinch-hit and coach. He could have qualified marginally, but once he sued, people in baseball’s conformist ambiance decided he was a ‘Bolshevik.’ Hiring him at thirty-nine was not worth the potential trouble. Walter O’Malley was no Borgia, plotting to bar Furillo from the game. Only Furillo’s decision to hire lawyers was at play. The existential result was identical.

Dave Kingman: I heard Susan Fornoff speak at a SABR meeting in Sacramento in July. Fornoff helped get female reporters admitted into locker rooms in the 1980s, and she said at the meeting that Kingman sent her a rat in the press box. The A’s released Kingman subsequently, he never played again in the majors, and he later sued Major League Baseball for collusion and got some money. Fornoff told us, “I think baseball can collude pretty easily.”

Rafael Palmeiro: Several players connected to steroids have seemingly been excised from the game, from Jose Canseco to Barry Bonds to Roger Clemens. Perhaps no one had as much left as Palmeiro, who played just seven games after an August 2005 suspension for a positive steroid test. Palmeiro hit .266 in 2005, was starting until the time of his suspension, and would have been 41 to start 2006. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to think he could have been a designated hitter for another year or two.

Related: Time for baseball to call an amnesty on Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe

Any player/Any era: Barry Bonds

What he did: If ever a baseball superstar played in precisely the wrong era for his skill set and temperament, it was Barry Bonds. Sure, one could glance at his power numbers after he probably started taking performance enhancing drugs and think they helped him. He might not have broken the single-season and career home run records unaided. But as Bonds approaches his fourth year under federal indictment, it seems like no ballplayer has lost more because of steroids, needlessly.

Bonds was one of the best in baseball clean, a rare player who could hit for average and power, run fast, and field well.  According to Game of Shadows, Bonds started using after watching Mark McGwire’s record-breaking 1998 season. Steroids inflated Bonds’ average and power, but they also added bulk, limiting his speed and defensive range. They also set him up for legal problems.

Imagine if Bonds played in an era where he never would’ve been presented with the decision to use, where there would have been no artificially bulked-up sluggers to envy, where weightlifting hadn’t even entered the game. Imagine if Bonds played before steroids.

Era he might have thrived in: Legions of Giants fans supported Bonds at his peak. I know another time this might have occurred: In the early 1920s, with the New York Giants (assuming we suspend disbelief about Bonds’ skin color keeping him from playing.)

Why: With his talents, Bonds could have shined in many eras. In the 1960s, he’d have rivaled his godfather Willie Mays. In the Deadball Era, he might have hit close to .400 or racked up gaudy stolen base totals. But I like the idea of him on the Giants of the early ’20s for a few reasons.

First, as the film Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story noted, those Giants wanted an ethnic slugger to rival the Yankees and Babe Ruth. In 1923, they signed a Jewish right fielder named Mose Solomon, who appeared in two games, got into a salary dispute, and never played again. Like Solomon, Bonds would have appealed to a large potential fan base. The Polo Grounds was near Harlem, and by the ’20s, the neighborhood was largely black. Bonds could have been one of its heroes.

Granted, I don’t know how Bonds would have interacted with his manager in New York, John McGraw, given that Bonds and Jim Leyland had some epic shouting matches in Pittsburgh. I’m also not sure how Bonds would coexist with the New York media. But there are other reasons this could work.

Like Solomon, Bonds hit left-handed and could have exploited the right field short porch at the Polo Grounds, which ran 258 feet to the foul pole. The vast expanses over the middle of the outfield could have provided Bonds with massive numbers of triples and a few inside-the-park home runs. And for a player who sometimes worked with little lineup protection, Bonds would have been on a 1923 Giants club that hit .295 and lost to the Yankees in the World Series.

A regular reader sent me converted stats from Baseball-Reference for Bonds playing every season of his career on a team like the 1923 Giants. While I discount the converted later seasons, since I believe those are a reflection of steroid-aided numbers, I think Bonds’ totals from his early seasons are telling. The stat converter has the Bonds of 1992 and 1993 posting back-to-back years with at least a .350 batting average, 40 home runs, and 120 RBI for New York.

I’m guessing Bonds would be good for 30-40 home runs annually with roughly the same career longevity, 20 or so seasons. That comes out to about 700 home runs. Legitimate ones.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that debuted June 3 and looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Bring Back the High Hard One: Remembering Sal Maglie

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor.


For years, I’ve listened to Pittsburgh Pirates’ announcers Steve Blass and Bob Walk urge Bucco hurlers to pitch fastballs inside. Although Blass and Walk were accomplished major league starters with more than 100 career wins, their advice is ignored—and not just by the Pirates.

Pitching inside is baseball’s lost art. Whether the commissioner’s office, umpires or pitchers and their coaches have decided that taking the inside of the plate is not politically correct, the fact remains that the high hard one is as rare as a complete game. Baseball is the poorer for it, too.

The name synonymous with inside pitching is Sal “the Barber” Maglie whose reputation as a headhunter dwarfs his outstanding career statistics.

On the mound, Maglie with his gaunt appearance, grim expression and stubble cut a fearsome presence that contributed to his reputation as a rough customer.

In 1958, Maglie spoke to Sports Illustrated reporter Roy Terrell for the first installment in a series titled “Big League Secrets.” Maglie’s chapter, in which he described his philosophy and nickname, was titled “The Art of Pitching”

Said Maglie: “You can’t let anyone run over you, for example. O.K., so they hit you a little. Right then is when you have to show them who’s the boss. Every batter is a challenge. I’ve been accused of giving some close shaves in my time and I guess I have. I don’t throw at hitters but I won’t deny that I make pretty sure that they aren’t digging in on me. I know I have to keep them loose.”

Maglie listed the three attributes necessary for a pitcher to succeed: 1) control of his pitches and himself, 2) confidence and determination and 3) knowledge and experience.

“The Barber” practiced what he preached. I count three back-to-back-to-back seasons when if it had existed, Maglie could have won the Cy Young Award. With the New York Giants from 1950 through 1952, Maglie posted records of 18-4 (2.71), 23-6 (2.93) and 18-8 (2.92). By 1956, the award’s first year, Maglie (13-5, 2.87) finished second to Don Newcombe in the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player voting.

In 1951, during the Giants famous end of season pennant run against the Dodgers, Maglie rolled off eleven straight victories and earned the All-Star Game win.

During his ten seasons, Maglie had a 110-62 record (3.15 ERA). Had Maglie not been banned by baseball from 1945 until 1950 for playing in the outlaw Mexican League, he may have reached the Hall of Fame. If you assume 15 wins during each of Maglie’s lost years, his average from 1950 through 1954 after he returned, that would put his win total at 185. Given that Maglie played an important role on championship Brooklyn Dodgers and Giants and earned the admiration of the baseball writers, he might have made Cooperstown.

Maglie holds two further distinctions. Maglie is the last player to be a member of all three New York teams, the Dodgers, Giants and New York Yankees. And infamously Maglie, despite pitching masterfully, lost to the Yankees’ Don Larsen in his 1956 perfect World Series game.

After Maglie’s career ended in 1958, he coached pitching for the Boston Red Sox (his star pupil was Jim Lonborg) and the Seattle Pilots.

Just how tough a cookie Maglie was in real life is debatable. Maglie’s first wife Kathleen, who died in 1967, couldn’t understand the fuss. According to her, “He isn’t tough at all. He lets his beard grow before a game so he’ll look fierce. I used to wonder what people were talking about when they said he scowled ferociously at the batters. Then I stayed home one day and watched him on TV. I hardly knew him.”

Watch this classic video from the old “What’s My Line?” television program with Maglie as the mystery guest and Phil Rizzuto appearing as a panelist. Notice Maglie’s neatly folded breast pocket handkerchief.

Then decide for yourself whether Maglie, out of uniform, was a good guy or a bad guy.


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

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Dan Quisenberry

Claim to fame: Quisenberry entered the majors in 1979 at 26 and played just 12 seasons, though early on, he may have been baseball’s best closer. Between 1980 and 1985, Quisenberry led the American League in saves five out of six seasons and finished among the top three in Cy Young voting four straight years. Nearly all of his 244 career saves came in this span.

After 1985, Quisenberry’s production declined dramatically, and he was out of baseball within five years, an afterthought for Hall of Fame voters, and an early death to brain cancer in 1998. Since then, his Cooperstown bid has gained support.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Quisenberry received 3.8 percent of the Cooperstown vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America his only year on the ballot in 1996 and can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I go back and forth on whether I believe Quisenberry deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, though many in the baseball research community praise him. One of his supporters is Joe Posnanski.

I interviewed the Sports Illustrated writer and baseball blogger last Thursday, and our 55-minute discussion produced more good material than could fit in my post. My piece here mostly contained Posnanski’s advice for young writers and his non-baseball interests, which I felt was original and humanizing. But for the first 15 minutes, Posnanski and I talked baseball. I considered doing a follow-up post, but I’m electing to space the remaining anecdotes out over the next few weeks, like Thanksgiving leftovers.

At one point early in our conversation, I read the names of a few players to Posnanski, asking if they belonged in the Hall of Fame. We discussed Rocky Colavito, who did his best work in Cleveland where Posnanski grew up. Posnanski said that while he didn’t think Colavito merited a plaque, he was essentially the same player in his prime as Jim Rice, who was enshrined in 2009.

I also asked about Quisenberry, who Posnanski knew. Posnanski told me:

“To me, Quiz’s career, while very different from Bruce Sutter’s was precisely the same in value. He was every bit as good a pitcher as Bruce Sutter, if not better. He pitched exactly the same number of innings. Sutter picked up some cheap saves at the end of his career. He’s got that saves advantage (with 300), but his ERA is higher. His ERA+ is higher. Quiz did it his way where he didn’t walk anybody…. He just got the most out of his ability. Sutter was obviously dominant with the splitter and everything. But I think at the end of the day, they’re the same.”

“It’s the same situation with Rice. I didn’t vote for Bruce Sutter for the Hall of Fame, so I don’t know that him going in changes the mind. But I really do think that Bruce Sutter being in the Hall of Fame, and Dan Quisenberry never really having had the discussion– him falling off the ballot that first year– I think that’s kind of an injustice.”

From there, we discussed how early relievers in general have been overlooked as save numbers have skyrocketed, partly as a result of the save becoming more of an emphasized stat, Posnanski noted. I would add that the same thing happened with stolen bases and home runs. What was once impressive now seems pedestrian.

It will ultimately be up to the Veterans Committee to make sense of everything, to determine which early relievers are Hall-worthy. I recently named Sparky Lyle my closer for a lineup of non-inducted greats, and I might make a case for Mike Marshall. Without a doubt, I think Quisenberry at least deserves the committee’s consideration.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here that debuted June 1.

Fantastic finishes: Pitchers who won 20 games in their final season

A regular reader emailed me recently with a question. He wrote: Besides Henry Schmidt (only season) and Mike Mussina, can you think of any other major leaguers who won 20 games in their last season?

The answer is yes, though it’s a small club. I found nine pitchers who’ve managed this feat and only two who have done so since 1920. This is because most hurlers, even future Hall of Famers, don’t bow out gracefully. Most are lucky not to wind up like Steve Carlton, bouncing from team to team or Roger Clemens, in disgrace or Nolan Ryan, whose ESPN highlight his final season might have been putting Robin Ventura in a headlock during a brawl.

Occasionally, a pitcher finishes well. Here are nine men who won 20 games their last year:

Mike Mussina: It’s a wonder Mussina didn’t keep playing after his 20-9 season in 2008. Mussina quit just shy of his 40th birthday with 270 wins when he might have stuck around to win 300. In fact, I think he could still be pitching if he wanted. Or Mussina could go the route of Jim Palmer and try an ill-conceived comeback in a few years.

Sandy Koufax: Has a pitcher ever done better his final season? This may be the standard. Koufax went 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA and 317 strikeouts in 1966, winning the Cy Young and leading the Dodgers to the World Series. Afterward, Koufax retired at 30 because of his arthritic arm and later was the youngest man inducted into Cooperstown. He’s also the only Hall of Famer here, at least until Mussina gets in.

Jim Devlin, Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams: Devlin went 35-25 in 1877 and, late in the season, participated in baseball’s first game-fixing scandal, costing his team the pennant and earning a lifetime ban. Decades later, Williams and Cicotte were rotation-anchoring hurlers for the Chicago White Sox who played crucial roles in throwing the 1919 World Series. Williams and Cicotte pitched again for Chicago in 1920 and won a combined 43 games but were barred before the 1921 season.

Henry Schmidt: Perhaps my favorite on this list, Schmidt went 22-13 as a 30-year-old rookie for Brooklyn in 1903 and then wrote the club a note saying he didn’t like playing on the East Coast. He never pitched in the majors again. Brooklyn had a hard time keeping pitchers in those days, losing another promising starter the year before, Jim Hughes, for similar reasons.

Charlie Ferguson: Ferguson won at least 20 games each of his four seasons in the majors, but died at 25 in 1888 after contracting typhoid fever. Overall, he went 99-64 with a 2.67 ERA and also hit .288 as an outfielder and second baseman.

Toad Ramsey: Going 23-17 in 1890 didn’t turn this Toad into a prince, at least not for the St. Louis Browns of the American Association who released him that September. Ramsey was done in professional baseball and so was the nickname Toad, which probably left the game for good reason.

Hank O’Day: Another pitcher who won at least 20 games in 1890 but didn’t play thereafter, O’Day’s 4.21 ERA that year and .227 batting average as an occasional outfielder perhaps doomed him. O’Day later became an umpire and was the official who ruled Fred Merkle out at second on the infamous Merkle’s Boner play on September 23, 1908 that helped the Giants lose the pennant.

Did I miss anyone? Let me know.

Results of the great Hall of Fame poll

About six months ago, I posted a first-ever poll on this site. I offered a list of 29 great baseball players not in the Hall of Fame, and restricting visitors to one vote per IP address, I asked them to choose up to 10 players.

Six months on, I’m ready to close the poll and prepare a new feature to take its place. More on that later this week. For now, I thought it might be interesting to show the vote tallies.

In all, 68 visitors to my site participated in the poll. Were they the voting class for Cooperstown, Bert Blyleven would have his plaque, Pete Rose would have almost 70 percent of the vote, and another banned player, Joe Jackson would have better than 50 percent.

Which of these players belong in the Hall of Fame? (choose up to 10)
Roberto Alomar 39 votes
Bert Blyleven 53 votes
Will Clark 6 votes
Hal Chase 2 votes
Dom DiMaggio 11 votes
Steve Garvey 17 votes
Bobby Grich 6 votes
Stan Hack 7 votes
Gil Hodges 26 votes
Joe Jackson 39 votes
Bill Madlock 1 vote
Roger Maris 23 votes
Carl Mays 7 votes
Mark McGwire 23 votes
Thurman Munson 13 votes
Dale Murphy 17 votes
Don Newcombe 5 votes
Lefty O’Doul 9 votes
Tony Oliva 15 votes
Dave Parker 13 votes
Deacon Phillippe 1 vote
Pete Rose 46 votes
Ron Santo 38 votes
Urban Shocker 0 votes
Ted Simmons 24 votes
Riggs Stephenson 4 votes
Alan Trammell 23 votes
Lou Whitaker 15 votes
Maury Wills 9 votes
other 13 votes
68 voters free polls


Double the fun: Frank Robinson: September 13, 1971; Game One #499; Game Two #500

Here’s the latest from Joe Guzzardi, a regular contributor. Every Saturday, Joe offers “Double the fun,” recounting a memorable doubleheader.


In 2007, the Washington Nationals offered Frank Robinson, its former manager, a special day during a May 20th game against his old team the Baltimore Orioles.

Robinson refused. After all the Nats, who claimed that Robinson “retired,” had pushed him out the door in 2006 in favor of Manny Acta.

Said Robinson: “I don’t feel like this organization has extended an open arms welcome to me even though they said they want to honor me. It doesn’t make me feel like it would be pleasant to have me around for a day.”

That’s Frank Robinson for you. He’s never been one to sugar coat things!

Although Robinson’s talents in his early days as a Cincinnati Reds put him in the same category as his widely admired peers Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, he had few baseball friends.

Even his teammates couldn’t warm up to him. When the Los Angeles Dodgers traded Don Newcombe to the Reds, the big pitcher said: “I try to get along with all the guys but, even though he’s my teammate, I can’t take Robinson. That guy is out there trying to maim people.””

Around the National League where Robinson was quick with his fists and his spikes, he was known as “the black Ty Cobb,” a player who would do anything to beat you.

Robinson summed his hard-nosed philosophy up this way: “Baseball isn’t a popularity contest. Some players are afraid of losing friends. Not me. I’m not out there to win friends. Just ball games, and I’ll do that any way that I can.”

In 1956, Robinson got off to a torrid start on his Hall of Fame career. Robinson hit 38 home runs, batted .290, led the National League with 122 runs scored, drove in 83 runs, was named to the All-Star team and was the Rookie of the Year. He also led the league in being hit by pitched balls, 20, on his way to a career total of 198 that places him eighth on the all time list.

Robinson’s 38 homers were the first among his career 586. He hit his historic 500th playing for the Baltimore Orioles during a 1971 double header against the Detroit Tigers.

How Robinson became an Oriole is a chapter from the “Worst Baseball Trades in History” book. On December 9, 1965 the Reds swapped Robinson for Orioles’ pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson. In his six seasons as an Orioles, Robinson hit .300 with 179 homers and 545 RBIs. For their new teams, Pappas went 30-29, 4.04 ERA (three seasons); Baldschun, 1-5, 5.25 (two seasons) and Simpson, .246, 5 homers and 20 RBIs (two seasons).

To appease irate fans, Reds’ general manager Bill De Witt called his slugger “an old 30” But that was far from the case as Robinson proved six years later.

On September 13th, the Tigers faced off in a double dip against Baltimore. Although the two teams finished in first and second place, the Orioles had all but formally wrapped up the pennant by that Monday afternoon.

In game one, Dave McNally (18-4) faced Mike Kilkenny (4-4); game two, Pat Dobson (17-7) versus Joe Niekro (6-7). Robinson went two for four in the first game with three RBIs, all of which were accounted for in the first inning on his 499th home run. The Orioles won 9-1.

In the nightcap, won by Detroit 10-5, Robinson hit number 500 in the bottom of the ninth.

After Robinson retired as an active player, he became baseball’s first black manager (Cleveland Indians) and piloted the San Francisco Giants, Orioles as well as the Nats.

The consensus among baseball experts is that Robinson, the manager, was not nearly as effective as Robinson the player. In 2005 and 2006 polls conducted by Sports Illustrated among 450 MLB players, Robinson was twice selected the worst manager in baseball.

But it is not as a manager that fans remember Robinson. Among his many on the field achievements are his Most Valuable Player awards in both leagues (with the Reds in 1961 and the Orioles in 1966 when he won the Triple Crown), Robinson ended up 57 hits shy of the 3,000-hit club but with, in addition to his 538 homers, a .294 batting average, .389 on-base percentage, .537 slugging and .926 OPS.

Last week, I saw Robinson at the U.S. Tennis Open, taking in the matches and looking very good for a 75-year-old. Interviewed by fawning Baltimore native Pam Shriver who called Robinson her “childhood hero,” Robinson was gracious.

Of course, he wasn’t wearing cleats.


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

An interview with Joe Posnanski

As an aspiring sportswriter, there are certain writers I look up to, idolize, and wonder how they got where they did. One of these writers is Joe Posnanski, the two-time Associated Press sports columnist of the year and Sports Illustrated writer. In addition to his professional duties, Posnanski maintains arguably the best baseball blog known to man, and during a visit to it last week, I noticed there was a person I could contact to see if Posnanski would be up for an interview. This led to an epic phone call yesterday.

If I were to type the full transcript of the 55-minute, wide-ranging discussion I had with Posnanski on Thursday afternoon, it might top 10,000 words, which I realize would be a fitting tribute to a writer whose blog bears the tagline, Curiously Long Posts. In honor of Posnanski, here is perhaps the longest entry I’ll ever post on this site. Highlights from the interview are as follows:

Me: I’m somebody who can stay in on a Friday night and spend hours on Baseball-Reference. Are you the same?

Posnanski: Oh absolutely, absolutely. I love to look at the numbers. Just today, I woke up this morning and was thinking about the American League Cy Young, and I thought, ‘You know, I would love to kind of break down start-by-start, C.C. Sabathia and Felix Hernandez, just take a look at those two guys and see how they did in each start and who had the better start. You know, Start 1, Start 2, all the way up to today.’

So I did it. I did that this morning. It’s so easy now. We have such great access to these numbers. I was able to do that, and I’ll turn it into a blog post. I definitely find great comfort and great joy in looking up things and seeing how things worked out through history.

Me: What do you love about baseball research?

Posnanski: To me, I think it really plays on my imagination. I love baseball, love the history of the game. There’s no way for me to go back and see Babe Ruth play or see Lou Gehrig play or Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle, these guys. But I can go look at their numbers. I can really try to kind of break down and see what it was that drove them, how they compare with other people. Obviously, there are so many researchers out there, statisticians out there, sabermetricians out there that are just a million times smarter than I am and have done all this incredible research which I’d love to look at.

But part of it for me is just the fun of going and looking at the numbers and trying to kind of figure out, ‘Okay, what does this mean? And how does this work? And what are we missing?’ I think for a long time there was just a sense of watching the game for the pure enjoyment of the game, which I still love. But now, part of me, I’ve seen enough baseball and written enough about baseball that I really want to know how it works or at least try to get a little closer to how it really works, and I think the numbers give us a great opportunity to do that.

*                              *                           *

Me: Is it ever strange to you that you’ve gotten so popular?

Posnanski: Only on a daily basis is it strange to me. Obviously, I never expected any of this to happen. I was somebody who just really went for it as a kid. I wanted to play second base for the Cleveland Indians, that was pretty much my entire goal, and when it became clear at a very young age that wasn’t gonna happen, I just sort of committed to other things.

I went to college to study accounting and had no real sense this was going to be my life. Through a wonderful series of coincidences and good fortune and people helping me, I kind of ended up in this field. Then, everything has been just sort of this big, wonderful surprise. It’s been so great. It’s been this way forever. It’s been this way since I started writing at the Charlotte Observer, then I wrote for the Augusta Chronicle in Georgia, and I went to the Cincinnati Post and then came to Kansas City. And all those places were terrific for me.

Then, this blogging thing happened, and I was pretty late to the party. I mean a lot of people had been blogging long before I got around to it. And that just took it to this whole other level. Then of course, Sports Illustrated, which is just the dream of any young sportswriter. So it’s been constantly, constantly shocking to me. It still is. And that’s good. I wouldn’t want to ever take it for granted. People have been so good to me, and people have been so supportive of me, even when they disagree, even if they don’t like it. I think people have come to appreciate how much I love what I do and how hard I work at it. I think that comes through, I hope that comes through, and the rest of it is just pure luck.

Me: Starting out as a writer, did you ever feel you weren’t any good or people weren’t reading?

Posnanski: Yeah, absolutely… throughout my entire childhood and into college I never once had a single person tell me I had any talent for writing. It wasn’t out of meanness or anything. I don’t think that it was there. I never had a teacher say, ‘Oh, this is a well-written assignment, you might want to think about writing.’ It never happened. So when I started to have this idea of being a sportswriter, I just constantly wondered, I’m no good at this. Why in the world would I even do this? Why would anyone pay me to do this? Those things were with me all the time.

After awhile, you start to figure a few things out here and there, but I still—you can ask any editor I’ve ever worked with, they’ll say to me when a story’s done, ‘What did you think of it?’ I’ll say, ‘Well, it’s done.’ I never feel good about it. I never feel good about anything I write. When it’s over, I just feel like that was the best I can do. Some days, I’ll go back and read it, it’s like, ‘Oh okay, well that wasn’t too bad.’ I never feel too great about what I do. Other people, I know, do. Other people in this business, they’ll write something, and they’ll just, they’ll immediately know, ‘Wow, this is terrific, I really wrote a great story here.’ And I’ve never had that feeling. It’s not to say I’m down on what I do. I know that I’m working as hard and doing the best I can, but I’ve never had that feeling.

So if you ask me did I ever worry about not being good enough or whatever, I don’t know that that feeling has ever changed for me. I’ve always felt like that what I really bring to the table is that I’m going to work really, really, really hard, and I’m really committed to what I do, and I love what I do, and hopefully that passion comes through and hopefully that’s what people are going to see.

*                              *                           *

Me: I spend a lot of time on blogging myself, and of course, I don’t also write for Sports Illustrated. How many hours a week do you think are consumed writing about sports or researching or reading about them?

Posnanski: I’d probably be scared to add them up… I spend a ton of time at the computer, writing, tapping out ideas, thinking about stuff. People always say to me, ‘Wow, your blogs are so long. You’re crazy how much you write.’ I don’t want to tell them how many stories I’ve written that I don’t put on the blog because I didn’t think it was quite good enough or the idea didn’t quite yield the [results.] So I’ve got this long, long list of—

Me: You know, you could send me some of those posts if you want.

Posnanski: To me, it’s like those unfinished songs that great artists will do. You’ll think, ‘Oh, I really want to hear it,’ and then you’ll hear it, you’ll be like, ‘Oh, I know why they didn’t finish this.’ So I think that would probably be your reaction.

*                              *                           *

Me: What’s one piece of advice you would give an aspiring sportswriter?

Posnanski: I always say this with a caveat that I wish there was one piece of advice that would work for everybody. I wish there was something I could say that would get somebody a job of their dreams tomorrow.

Not really having that piece of advice, I always say that, to me, it starts with reading. This is something I tell high school kids, college kids, people trying to get into the business, that it’s just so much about reading. Read, read, read. So much of everything else falls into place when you just do a ton of reading.

It works on so many different levels. When you’re reading, obviously, it gives you the knowledge, the background and that sort of thing. But also it helps you, I really believe, form words in your mind. It gives you an idea of how things need to be written, it gives you style points. There’s just so many things, some of them very much below the surface.

I read a lot. When I’m not at the computer, and I’m not with the family, I’m reading. I read very widely. I don’t read very much sports. I read fiction and non-fiction and history and mysteries and read with very much an open mind to what I can get out of this…. It’s important to write a lot, it’s important to have a good editor and listen to good advice. There’s so many of those basic things. But to me, the magic really comes out of the reading.

*                              *                           *

Me: I was reading some stuff that you’ve talked to Bill James before. How much of an influence has he been?

Posnanski: He’s a very good friend, so he’s been a huge influence. His writing has been a huge, huge influence on everything that I think about with baseball and writing. Bill is just a terrific, terrific writer beyond baseball stuff. He’s a thinker. He has strong opinions, but the opinions are built out of these great questions that he asks. He really is unique. Getting to know him and becoming friends, we get together for lunch and dinner. He’s still a huge influence on me. He’s one of a kind.

I think he should be in the Hall of Fame. I think that he changed the way people see the game for the better.

He’s still as sharp as ever, he’s still thinking along some interesting lines, and he’s just a lot of fun. I think it’s easy to miss that part of him…. He’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of fun. He’s very, very funny and very, very thoughtful. He’s just a good friend and definitely a huge influence on me.

*                              *                           *

Me: I took a look at your wife’s blog. Being that you and your wife both write, do you expect either of your daughters to do so also?

Posnanski: I don’t know. Our oldest daughter just turned nine, and she’s been talking more and more about wanting to be a writer… Both of our daughters are very creative in school, they love reading, they love storytelling, so that’s cool.

The great thing for me as a dad is, while I’m obviously forceful in certain areas of their lives, I really want them to do whatever they want to do. I want them to be what they want to be. I’ve kind of gotten to watch them find their own ways, just in little things, what are they interested in, what do they like. I really haven’t spent a lot of time trying to influence them. I haven’t tried to force anything on them. It’s been pretty cool to watch.

I don’t know if they’ll become professional writers, but I really do hope, and I do believe that they’ll both write, whether it’s for fun, whether it’s for their own little blog, whatever it may be…. What I didn’t know as a kid is how much fun it is to write, because to me writing always meant assignments. Writing always meant papers that were due. What I didn’t realize is how much fun it is to write. I just hope they know that, and that’s one thing I would love to be able to instill in them is how much fun, and how rewarding, and how much writing reveals about yourself.

*                              *                           *

Me: I was reading that your youngest daughter was born in February 2005. I’m curious, did she just start kindergarten?

Posnanski: She did, she did. She’s in her first month of kindergarten.

Me: Oh whoa, how’s that going?

Posnanski: It’s going great. She loves it, and it’s good for her because her older sister, she’s been watching her. We have this little game we would play every morning while Elizabeth, the older one, was going to school. We’d have this game where we’d look out the window and see which one’s the first one of us to see the bus coming out the window. So she’d been doing that for three years, and finally the bus was coming for her, and she was really, really excited about that.

It’s very cool… They’ll get older, and there will be times that school won’t seem all that cool anymore, and there will be days they won’t want to go, and all that. But she’s at that stage where she pops up in the morning, and she’s ready to go to school, and that’s pretty cool to see.

Me: Right on. It sounds like she knows how to read already.

Posnanski: She knows how to read some. She likes to read along while we read to her. But she’s always kind of had a little head start because of her sister and all that. She’s definitely working on it. We’re working on counting to 100, we’re working on all those kindergarten things. She’s had a good appreciation for words for quite some time.

*                              *                           *

Me: I noticed you interviewed Michael Schur for your blog. I know Michael both as ‘Ken Tremendous’ from Fire Joe Morgan and also as Mose on The Office. Are you a fan of The Office by chance?

Posnanski: I’m a big, big fan of The Office and a fan of Parks and Rec [Schur has written for both shows.] I’ve gotten to know Michael a little bit. We actually went out for drinks just a couple weeks ago when I was in LA. Great guy. Just a really, really great guy, brilliant guy who, pretty much, he’s as funny in real life as he was in the Fire Joe Morgan thing.

Me: I wish that site was still going. It was awesome in its heyday, and I only found out about it afterward.

Posnanski: Yeah, but it’s still fun to go back and read the archives of it.

Me: I read in the interview with Schur that you love Rashida Jones. Do you ever wish that Jim wound up with Karen?

Posnanski: No, no, I love Pam, so definitely, the Jim and Pam thing had to happen. Of course, once it does happen, then they’re not as interesting anymore. That’s sort of the whole concept behind the original Office is you couldn’t get them together until the last show….

The really cool thing about The Office is that you love all the characters, even the characters you aren’t supposed to love. That’s a pretty rare thing for a television show, especially a show that has such an ensemble cast. The characters are distinct, defined, and they’re all just really cool on their own merits. It’s a pretty well written show.

Me: Oh, God, I think it’s incredibly well written. It seems they have a lot of classic Simpson’s people, at least Greg Daniels.

Posnanski: Yeah, yeah absolutely. It’s definitely a great show, and Parks and Rec has a lot of the same characteristics too.

Me: It’s funny. I haven’t gotten into Parks and Rec yet. I think I’ve seen every episode of The Office, the British series as well, but I haven’t checked out Parks and Rec yet.

Posnanski: It’s fun. It’s a different thing in some ways, because obviously, its whole concept is somewhat different, but it has a lot of The Office in it. It’s very, very funny on its own merits.

Me: This is a goofy question, but if you’re one character from The Office, who are you?

Posnanski: Every guy wants to say they’re Jim, right? I mean, I’m not Dwight, and I certainly hope I’m not one of the accountants.

Me: Yeah, I was going to ask Kevin.

Posnanski: I hope I’m not Kevin. I mean, no offense to Kevin, he’s a great character. But I hope I’m not in the back, just eating donuts.

I remember the episode Jim put himself in Second Life as a sportswriter, so I’m thinking Jim has some sportswriting dreams. So I think I’d be him, as much I am anybody.

*                              *                           *

Me: From here on out for the rest of your career, do you have any goals of things you haven’t accomplished yet that you’d like to accomplish?

Posnanski: Yeah, I mean there’s tons of stuff I haven’t accomplished. I think there are books I want to write and stories I want to tell and all of that. I certainly don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much of anything at this point, so yes. But I don’t know if there’s anything specific.

I’ve never been particularly a goal-oriented person in that way. I’ve never been like, ‘Well, I hope at thirty I’m this, and at forty I’m this.’ To me, if I ever had goals, they were to become a columnist at a newspaper and that happened and then it was a columnist at a major metropolitan daily paper and that happened. And I think I was perfectly content with that, and then Sports Illustrated comes along, so now I’m already playing with house money.

I definitely want to keep writing, and definitely, every single day, more ideas come about things I want to do as a writer. But no there are probably not any specific goals.

Me:  Let me see, anything else I could ask you—this is awesome by the way, I really appreciate you taking the time.

Posnanski: Of course.

Me: I guess the last question I’d leave you with is, I’m 27 right now, and I’m a writer who’s basically trying to start out. Do you remember what that was like? Does it feel like it was all that long ago?

Posnanski: It doesn’t feel that long ago to me. It definitely doesn’t. I went to Augusta when I was 24, and I just remember thinking, Boy, this might not work. I’m going to this place I’ve never been, this relatively small town in Georgia. I don’t know, people might hate me, and this totally might not work. That’s a scary feeling. But I think that the way you respond is just—it gets back to the basics—I think you have to keep working. You just work really, really hard.

I think if there’s one thing that I’ve said that I think has connected to people… people talk about Writer’s Block, and I always say, ‘My dad worked in a factory for 40 years, my dad’s never had Factory Block.’ He went to work every single day because that was his job.

I think as a writer some days it comes out pretty easy, some days it comes out really hard, and some days it doesn’t come out at all. You just gotta fight through it all and just keep working at it. There are no guarantees. But I think the people that work the hardest in this profession are very often successful, and I think that’s the best way to attack.

Any player/Any era: Rickey Henderson

What he did: Henderson might be the greatest lead-off hitter ever. The first ballot Hall of Famer and career stolen base champ could be relied on in his prime for 20 home runs, a .300 batting average and 60-80 stolen bases, minimum. Henderson is an all-time great ballplayer and certainly one of my favorite athletes in any sport, a legendary competitor and character. I love that he started playing independent ball in his 40s when no big league team would sign him and that he went on ESPN in 2003 to ask for another shot in the majors. I love that it worked.

Some might say Henderson played in the perfect era for his skill set, as he debuted in 1979, less than 20 years after speedsters like Maury Wills and Lou Brock helped bring the steal back. I wonder, though, how Henderson might have fared in an era before steals were valued, when he could have hit in the middle of the order. If he did this, he could have showed off a facet of his game that may have been underutilized in the lead-off spot: His power.

Era he might have thrived in: With the Boys of Summer Brooklyn Dodgers in the early 1950s.

Why: The Dodgers of those years were stacked, perennial contenders who had taken advantage of Major League Baseball’s slowness to integrate by pilfering the Negro Leagues in the late 1940s. Interestingly, though, despite scoring Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and others, Brooklyn never had a Willie Mays-type five tool superstar. Henderson might have been Brooklyn’s answer to the Say Hey Kid.

Running Henderson’s career numbers through the stat converter on, he finishes with 350 home runs and a .936 OPS if he’d played every season on a team like the 1953 Dodgers. The converter has him hitting above .350 six times and smacking at least 30 home runs twice, something he never did in a season. I think the power numbers are conservative, and I question if the converter can account for the difference Henderson would experience hitting in the middle of the lineup. Henderson was a master of the lead-off home run. Imagine what he could do on a team that hit well and put men on-base.

Those Dodgers hit .285 as a team, went 105-49, and lost to the Yankees in the World Series, as they did often in those years. Adding Henderson might well have been mutually beneficial. Despite having Carl Furillo in right field and Duke Snider in center, the Dodgers were perpetually getting new left fielders in those years. A regular reader pointed out to me that Robinson and Jim Gilliam even spent time at the position. With Henderson, there would be no more stopgaps and perhaps a few more championships.

My guess is that Henderson would hit 35-40 home runs regularly for Brooklyn and also be good for at least 30-40 steals and a .330 batting average every season. Since he’d be playing in a time where a man only needed 30 steals to lead the league, I think Henderson could probably still be a regular stolen base champ. Would he have supplanted Brock or Ty Cobb in the record books? Possibly not. But he might have a greater legacy today.

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