I officially know nothing

Last Saturday, shortly after I got home from watching Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, I logged into Twitter and saw a Tweet from Rob Neyer, saying he would be on ESPN Radio shortly, taking questions. After a few tries, I got through, and I asked Neyer his thoughts on if there could be a Rangers-Giants World Series. He said he thought there was a good chance, and while it made me smile, I remained skeptical. I’ve been skeptical all season, and I suspect I may be a skeptic at heart. Thankfully, I now officially know nothing: The Giants triumphed 3-2 over the Phillies this evening and will face the Rangers in the Series.

It’s an improbable match-up to cap improbable seasons for both teams. I read Rangers team president Nolan Ryan saying at the start of the year that he thought his squad was good for 92 wins, and that sounded like crazy talk. Granted, Sports Illustrated predicting great things for the Mariners on the basis of obscure defensive metrics sounded– and proved– crazier still (even if I went along with it at the time) but I would not have picked Texas to so much as win the AL West. None of the teams appeared good enough really, and the fact that one is now playing for the championship defies logic, conventional wisdom, and definitely sabermetrics.

The Giants were another story. While I told people from the outset of this season that the Giants looked like a 90-win club, I figured they wouldn’t do much beyond win the NL West. They just didn’t seem to have the offensive star power. In fact, when San Francisco dipped to around .500 at the beginning of July, I feared this was only the latest in a long line of laughably inept predictions, like when I said the Niners would win the NFC West in 2004 and watched them go 2-14, or when I thought Barack Obama should be Hillary Clinton’s VP in 2008. Heck, even after San Francisco triumphed over the Padres on the last day of the season to win the division, I wrote a post here that ran along the lines of, Well, that was nice but nothing much will happen for the Giants in the postseason.

It never felt so good to be wrong.

Cliff Lee Meet Deacon Phillippe!

I’m pleased to present the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi on a brilliant pitcher likely forgotten by all but baseball historians. As Joe writes, Deacon Phillippe is most known for his outstanding work in the 1903 World Series, though he’s also a distant relative of actor Ryan Phillippe (who named his son Deacon for him) and he won 20 games six times. In 2005, Tom Verducci included the Deadball Era hurler in SI.com’s list of the 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame.


Here’s a World Series quiz for readers. What starting pitcher who excelled in post season play said: “It’s a cold day when I get three balls on a man.”

If you have been listening to baseball analysts these past few days, you might think it was the stingy Cliff Lee, all but crowned as the greatest October pitcher of all time. Others mentioned by the talking heads, although somewhat dismissively, include Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Mariano Rivera and Whitey Ford.

The correct response is not Lee, however, but the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Deacon Phillippe (pronounced Phil-uh-pee) who in 1903 against the Boston Americans pitched five complete World Series games, two on back-to-back days, and won three of them. In what was then a nine game World Series format, Phillippe out dueled Boston’s Cy Young in the opener while striking out 10 and walking none.

Here’s Phillippe’s aggregate five game line for the 1903 World Series, won by Boston 5-3:

IP- 44; H-38; R-19; ER-16; BB-3; SO-23

Three walks in 44 innings averages less than one per game, lower than Phillippe’s career average of 1.2 walks per start and, moreover, lower than Lee’s 2.2 per nine inning career mark.

Although Phillippe’s Herculean performance did not lead the Pirates to a world championship that year, Pittsburgh fans showed their appreciation by presenting him with a diamond horseshoe stickpin and owner Barney Dreyfuss rewarded him ten shares of stock in the club.

The secret of Phillippe’s pitching success was, according to an interview he gave to The Sporting News, “keeping batters guessing. I study the batsman in every way: his position in the box, his general attitude, the way he holds the bat, and any other individual characteristics he may have.” Lee, more than a century later, learned Phillippe’s lesson well.

Phillippe’s five complete game decisions are a World Series record that will stand forever unless the fall classic reverts to the best of nine. If that happens, we’ll be watching baseball and eating turkey on the same day.


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

Hit By Batter and a Present Danger

I’m pleased to present a guest post from Gerry Garte, who sent me the following piece on Thursday. I encourage anyone who’s interested in writing for this site to do likewise.


Shattering bats are causing injuries and havoc on the baseball diamond.

Some bats being produced today are splintering and separating long-ways. From time to time, the flying wood has become a threat to players on the infield.

The most difficult of these injuries came on September 19 at Sun Life Stadium in South Florida.

Cubs Tyler Colvin was running third to home, watching the flight of a ball hit by Cubs Welington Castillo. As Colvin watched, a large piece of splintered wood hit him in the upper chest. The wood bounced off, but it had punctured his chest. Colvin was recovering the last two weeks of the season.

A few days after Colvin was hurt, ace pitcher Cliff Lee of Texas was struck behind his ear by a piece of shattered bat from Oakland’s Jack Cust. Light bleeding, but Lee was able to continue.

How close do we need to get to a critical injury or fatality?

Major League Baseball is well aware of the situation, and seems to be moving in a positive direction. Timeliness is the concern. With safety as a priority, new standards for bats should be in place well before next season. In the event that something isn’t done to correct splintering bats before next season, I have concocted a Plan B: Hit By Batter (HBB).

When a batter loses grip of his bat or the bat breaks and then hits a defensive player, on that defensive player’s next at bat (or his position in the batting order), he will be awarded first base. This is Hit By Batter (HBB). This award of first base, like Hit By Pitch (HBP), will not be an official at bat. However, it will be different in one regard, the batter will have an option:

  • Being awarded first base with no at bat
  • Accepting an official at-bat

If he accepts the HBB, he reports to the home plate umpire and is directed to first. Players on base would advance one base if forced, as if the batter had been walked. If a batter wishes to accept a plate appearance and risk an out– and this would depend on game situation– he will inform the umpire and immediately step in the batter’s box.

With the implementation of HBB, a team would be less likely to support the use of a bat made of material more likely to shatter/break.

If a lost/broken bat incident is somehow determined to be intentional by Major League Baseball, a suspension would be strongly considered.

On the other hand, if the defensive player makes no move to avoid a tumbling bat, the defensive player’s next at bat (or his place in the batting order) could be ruled an out in advance by the umpiring crew.

Only baseball could consider such an unlikely event as reason to establish a new rule.

But a new rule, Plan A, is needed.

A thorough, updated investigation by Major League Baseball to determine the exact types of bats causing the most problem has been warranted for several years. We’re discussing player safety.

In two-year-old data, it was noted that maple bats were used by more than half of the players in MLB.

As baseball has added rules requiring batting helmets, an updated safety standard on the wood in bats is overdue.


Email Gerry Garte at garte@comcast.net

Any player/Any era: Jimmy Wynn

What he did: If ever there was a player hurt by his era, it’s Jimmy Wynn. The power-hitting center fielder played from 1963 to 1977, spending much of his prime in an age dominated by pitchers, in perhaps the least-friendly park for hitters since the Deadball Era, the expansive Houston Astrodome. Wynn finished with a .250 lifetime batting average and 291 home runs and did not receive any Hall of Fame votes the only year his name appeared on the ballot, 1983. In an era better suited for hitters, Wynn might have been a Hall of Famer.

Era he might have thrived in: Playing at pretty much any other point in baseball history since the Deadball Era, Wynn would have added another 30-50 batting average points and 50-100 home runs lifetime. Assuming we suspend disbelief about the color of Wynn’s skin keeping him from the majors prior to 1947, he could have done some of his best work in the American League in the 1930s.

Why: Baseball-Reference.com has a tool to convert a player’s lifetime numbers, so I took the 15 seasons of Wynn’s career and looked at how he might have done on a few different clubs. A reader suggested the Houston Astros in the late 1990s, when they had a hitters team and ballpark. I thought of the New York Giants in the 1920s and ’30s when I figured Wynn might have been the Giants’ answer to Joe DiMaggio (he wouldn’t, as I found.) I then realized Wynn may have soared higher on the Detroit Tigers in the 1930s, when hitters ruled baseball.

Here’s a chart with Wynn’s lifetime stats for each team, with numbers calculated on a one-one basis. For the Giants, I converted 1963 to 1923, 1964 to 1924 and so on. It took awhile, since I had to do it myself, but I think it offers a fairly accurate look.

Actual numbers 6653 1105 1665 285 39 291 964 225 1224 1427 .250
Giants 1923-1937 6628 1282 1873 325 42 329 1120 256 1384 1359 .283
Tigers 1927-1941 6773 1460 2018 347 45 362 1270 272 1488 1359 .298
Astros 1993-2007 6825 1321 1919 330 42 339 1152 258 1429 1398 .281

Basically, on all three teams, Wynn saw a jump, and with the Tigers in the 1930s, he may have had enough for Cooperstown. I didn’t run conversions for the Indians, Red Sox, or A’s in the 1930s, all places Wynn may have put up even better numbers, though I like him in Detroit for two reasons. First, he would have had a bandbox of a park, Tigers Stadium. He also would have been a part of Detroit’s World Series-contending clubs led by Hank Greenberg. With Wynn’s ability to get on base 40-50 percent of his plate appearances and his superior WAR to Detroit center fielder, Jo-Jo White, the Tigers may benefited too.

Here’s a breakdown of how Wynn’s career would have converted, season for season:

1927 (’63) 252 41 72 12 6 5 35 5 35 .286
1928 (’64) 215 23 53 8 0 6 22 6 26 .247
1929 (’65) 575 116 189 36 8 27 93 53 102 .329
1930 (’66) 422 86 126 25 1 21 86 15 48 .299
1931 (’67) 604 140 180 35 3 45 147 19 89 .298
1932 (’68) 565 131 190 30 7 34 104 14 117 .336
1933 (’69) 507 139 163 21 1 41 107 28 182 .321
1934 (’70) 549 93 171 35 2 29 100 26 116 .311
1935 (’71) 396 46 90 18 0 8 54 11 61 .227
1936 (’72) 589 172 197 39 4 39 132 22 137 .334
1937 (’73) 477 111 121 16 5 23 67 16 104 .254
1938 (’74) 550 143 179 21 5 39 148 23 133 .325
1939 (’75) 425 107 130 21 0 23 78 9 140 .306
1940 (’76) 454 92 116 24 1 21 81 20 159 .256
1941 (’77) 193 20 41 6 2 1 16 5 39 .212
TOTAL 6773 1460 2018 347 45 362 1270 272 1488 .298

As I’ve written before, there are some things I suspect the stat converter can’t account for, like the confidence one would get playing for a winner rather than a loser. Success begets more success, and I’m guessing Wynn wouldn’t experience the surreptitious drop in numbers in 1935, which would surely get him dropped from the Tigers on their march to the World Series title that year. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Wynn finished with 400 home runs and a .300 lifetime batting average.

Even at 362 home runs, though, Wynn would have been fifth in baseball history upon his retirement in 1941, trailing only Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Mel Ott. Those men are all baseball legends. In another era, Wynn might have been one too.

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

Others in this series: Albert PujolsBarry Bonds, Bob CaruthersDom DiMaggioFritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon KillebrewHome Run BakerJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Nate ColbertPete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe JacksonThe Meusel BrothersTy Cobb

Lamenting Barry Zito

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


I first saw Barry Zito, the struggling San Francisco Giant pitcher, during the summer of 2000.

On a perfect California evening Zito, then with the AAA Sacramento River Cats, was going through his unique pre-game stretching yoga exercises in a secluded corner of Raley Field. A handful of young women spotted Zito. They raced out to left field, hung over the wall and cried out at the single, eligible Zito, “Barry! Barry! Up here, Barry!”

Zito smiled at them. But he stayed on task, getting ready to pitch in another minor league game that would take him one step closer to his inevitable arrival in the American League where he would immediately become a standout in the Oakland A’s pitching rotation.

That was ten summers and $126 million dollars ago when Zito’s life was much simpler. In 2000 everything pointed straight up for Zito, a first-round draft choice from the University of Southern California. Rivercats fans knew we had to appreciate Zito while we could. Scouting reports predicted that his curve ball would soon devastate big league sluggers.

So it did. By October Zito, a long way from Sacramento, won game 4 of the American League Division championship series for the A’s in New York against the Yankees. And in 2002, Zito reached his apex when his 23 wins helped him capture the Cy Young Award. By that time, I had adopted Zito as one of my favorite players—and not just because he fooled the hated Yankees when they fished for his breaking ball.

I admire Zito because he was then—and remains now—a thoroughly likeable player in a (steroid) era when the game has too few of them.

As a Zito fan, I’m still troubled when I hear the criticism directed at him, valid though it may be. To be sure, Zito’s results since signing what was then the largest contract in baseball’s history are disappointing. This year Zito has hit bottom. Despite an encouraging start to his season, the Giants left him off its postseason roster.

The booing unsettles me too. In 2007, I traveled to AT&T Park from my home in Lodi to watch Zito pitch against and lose to the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates. When Zito walked the first three batters in inning one, the raspberries started.

As bad as Zito’s outing was, a 2008 game I also attended was even worse. On an otherwise magnificent April Sunday afternoon, Zito gave up six earned runs to the Cincinnati Reds in the top of the first. According to the San Francisco Chronicle when manager Bruce Botchy went to the mound the first time, he implored Zito to get someone out so that he wouldn’t have to yank him mid-inning and face a barrage of hissing. Laboring for each of the three innings he lasted, Zito gave up eight earned runs in a 10-1 Giant loss that put his record at 0-6.

Zito, fortunately for him, has qualities that may help him weather the tribulations that engulf him. He’s active in dozens of charities including his own Strike Outs for the Troops. Founded in 2005, the organization has raised well over $1 million.

Refreshingly Zito, unlike so many superstars, doesn’t take himself seriously. He loves skateboarding, surfing, playing his guitar and once dyed his hair blue. Twice, Zito danced in the Oakland Ballet’s “Nutcracker” benefit. When asked why he bids on eBay for his own autographed baseball cards Zito answered: “Because I know they’re authentic!”

For all this and more, in 2006 the Sporting News voted Zito baseball’s number one “Good Guy” award.

Zito is as troubled by his poor pitching as any fan or teammate. But he takes criticism in stride. Baseball fans, as Zito knows, can be merciless even toward the greatest players in the game.

In 1986, before the tax evasion and gambling scandal, Reds’ fans brutally hooted one of their most beloved players, Pete Rose, when his average slipped all the way down to .219.

What’s in Zito’s future is uncertain. A comeback at 32 is hard to imagine. But other slow balling left handers have had stand out seasons late in their careers. At 35, the New York Yankees’ Eddie Lopat posted a 16-4 record and won the ERA crown with a 2.42 average. The following year, Lopat went 12-4.  When he was 36 and 37, Jim Kaat won 20 games back to back for the Chicago White Sox, 21-13 and 20-14.

Pitching coaches say that to be successful, Zito must pitch lower in the strike zone. That’s easier said than done. The biggest question is whether Zito will get another chance.


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

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? John Smoltz

Claim to fame: I just wrote about Jack Morris, and now, it seems only fair to feature his opponent from Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. John Smoltz’s line– 7.1 shutout innings, six hits, four strikeouts— doesn’t get talked about like Morris’s 10-inning shutout, but it may rank among the best losing-end efforts in postseason history. It’s up there with Sal Maglie’s complete game in Don Larsen’s perfecto in 1956 and Bill Bevens, who lost a no-hitter, and the game, with two outs in the ninth in 1947, and it got me reviewing Smoltz’s stats. Turns out besides being a great starter and closer, Smoltz was perhaps the best playoff pitcher of his generation.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Smoltz retired following the 2009 season and will be eligible for enshrinement in 2015 through the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? In short: Yes, though I wonder when Smoltz will receive his plaque in Cooperstown (and if it could hang with his stellar Atlanta Braves teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, though that may be discussion for another time.)

Smoltz is going to be an interesting case for the writers, since he went to the bullpen after a catastrophic injury mid-career and lost a few years of starting and perhaps 50 wins. His career line of 213-155 with a 3.33 ERA and 3,084 strikeouts is Hall of Fame-caliber for a starting pitcher, but it’s at the lower end of the spectrum. His top 10 list of pitchers he’s most similar to based on stats include three Hall of Famers, Jim Bunning, Catfish Hunter, and Don Drysdale, and none were first ballot choices. Bunning was a Veterans Committee pick, Hunter got in on his third try with the writers, and Drysdale made it, barely, on his tenth.

Still, if there’s justice among the BBWAA, the full range of Smoltz’s achievements will be considered, from the 154 saves he amassed mid-career to his lifetime postseason record, which looks more like a Cy Young season.

Andy Pettitte has more postseason wins in his career than Smoltz– 19 to 15– though in a series-deciding game, there’s no question who I’d rather have on the mound. In almost every statistical category, Smoltz trounces Pettitte.

Here’s a chart with their career postseason records:

Smoltz 15 4 2.67 41 27 2 1 209 62 199 1.144
Pettitte 19 10 3.83 42 42 0 0 263 112 173 1.304

There’s one other thing worth mentioning, and while I doubt it will matter to voters, I think it should. Early in his career, Smoltz had clear emotional problems, and after starting the 1991 season 2-11, he began seeing a sports psychologist and righted course. This is rare. I’ve written about aces like Dontrelle Willis or Steve Blass who encountered issues of their own. Generally, once a hurler starts down this road, it’s the point of no return (with one exception aside from Smoltz being Zack Greinke, who overcame an anxiety disorder to win the 2009 American League Cy Young Award.)

It’s one more way Smoltz was in rare company as a pitcher.

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

Others in this series: Al Oliver, Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Dan Quisenberry, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, Jack Morris, Joe Carter, Keith Hernandez, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Rocky Colavito, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines

2010 NLCS: More than I usually watch

I mentioned here on Friday that I would have something for today about the Phillies and Giants and the National League Championship Series, and sure enough, I watched the first game on Saturday, a thrilling 4-3 victory for San Francisco.

Here’s my confession: It was the first baseball game I’ve watched all year.

It’s funny to admit this, seeing as I probably spend at least 10-15 hours each week reading, writing, and talking about baseball, imploring others to be as passionate about its history as I am. For some reason, I just don’t care that much to watch games on television.

I have a few ideas why this is.

  1. I have a limited attention span: Baseball is a slow game, and I’m not always patient. I’m someone who will sit down to read a book and want to do something else after a page or two. The thought of sitting for 2-3 hours and watching a game seems impossible sometimes.
  2. My friends aren’t fans: I often tell friends or acquaintances I have a baseball blog, and their response is typically something like, “That’s nice. I’m not really into baseball.” Thus I usually have the prospect of watching games alone or trekking to a sports bar, neither of which much appeals to me.
  3. Television issues: My favorite team’s the Giants, most of their games air on cable, and I canceled my service long ago for financial reasons. And ever since the mandated digital conversion, I’ve had crappy, pixelated reception on regular channels, so if I were to watch a game, it means that the picture might cut out at a key play. Occasionally, I’ll listen to part of a game on the radio, but that generally doesn’t do it for me, either.
  4. Steroids: Maybe I’m being unfair to baseball, but I still wonder how many players are on steroids or on HGH. It’s hard to marvel at players I suspect may be chemically-enhanced. I doubt I’m the only fan who feels this way.
  5. I prefer watching baseball in person, and I’m broke: I love going to ballparks. For me, sitting in a seat is an almost spiritual experience. It soothes my soul, and I even like going alone. If I had the money, I think I’d have gone to at least a couple A’s or Giants games this year, but the economy still sucks, and I’m working odd jobs to make ends meet.
  6. Maybe I’m just not that into baseball: I’ve begun to think that more than being a baseball fan, I’m a history fan, and baseball is what I know the history of. It could be this way about the military or classic cars– anything really– provided I started reading about it at a young age as voraciously as I did with baseball. After all these years and so many thousands of pages, I think I like the story of baseball more than the game itself.

I’m glad I broke rank on Saturday to get together with a group of guys and watch San Francisco triumph over Philadephia. It was the best game I’ve seen in years, even if I haven’t taken in that many. Here’s hoping I watch a few more games the rest of the postseason.

An Afternoon at the Forbes Field Wall: Remembering the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular contributor here.


On October 13, I was one of about 2,500 Pittsburgh Pirate fans who gathered at a small remaining section of the Forbes Field wall. Our shared mission: to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Buccos stunning 1960 World Series upset over the hated New York Yankees in the seventh game.

Every year fans unite at the wall to listen to a radio replay of the game while mixing and mingling to relive every precious moment. Some fans have small containers of dirt they dug up after the game. Others like me have old pennants or score cards that they have somehow held onto for all these decades. One fan had a 1960 yearbook along with the tickets stubs from games one and seven to prove he was there. I asked him how he had the foresight to save his stubs. He told me his mother, recognizing their historic value, stashed them away.

Everybody shares where they were at exactly 3:36 P.M. five decades ago when Bill Mazeroski hit his bottom of the ninth inning home run on a 1-0 count off Yankee relief pitcher Ralph Terry to win the game, 10-9. I was a New Jersey high school junior, the only Pirate fan in a room full of Yankees rooters.

Most years, players who live in the Pittsburgh area show up to happily talk with you or sign autographs. Among them are team captain and 1960 National League Most Valuable Player Dick Groat, now the color announcer for the University of Pittsburgh basketball team, premier relief pitcher Roy Face and workhorse starter Bob Friend.

Unfortunately, because of the large crowd, security personnel kept fans from interacting with the players.

This year, because the Forbes Field event was followed by a black tie dinner at PNC Park to honor the 1960 Bucs, the Pirates flew players in from across the nation. Included were stars like Vernon Law but also lesser lights like Joe Christopher, Bob Oldis and George “Red” Witt, a personal favorite of mine since I saw him play for the Hollywood Stars.

In 1957 Witt, a fire balling California right hander, notched an 18-7 record with a 2.24 ERA for the Stars. Unfortunately, arm trouble limited Witt to an 11-16 career mark with the Pirates, the Los Angeles Angels and the Houston Colt .45s. During the 1960 World Series, however, Witt appeared in three games and held the Yankees scoreless over 2.2 innings.

Much of the buzz among the fans was about the discovery of the Game Seven video tape thought to be lost forever but found in Bing Crosby’s wine cellar at his longtime home near San Francisco. The tape features the Yankees’ Mel Allen and the Pirates’ Bob Prince calling the game.

The MLB Network will televise the discovered Game Seven, with Bob Costas hosting, during the offseason. Player interviews will be included as part of the broadcast.

As for the special day at Forbes Field, I’ll note that although many cities have been the home team during historic World Series finales, Pittsburgh is the only city to stage an annual honorary day.

Forbes Field is long gone, replaced by the University of Pittsburgh School of Business. Many students have no idea a wonderful old ball park once stood where they now crack their books. Few have heard of Mazeroski. Some of the freshmen weren’t even alive the last time the Pirates had a winning season, 1992.

On October 13, none of that matters to those of us who remember that great 1960 year capped off by baseball’s most unforgettable game.


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

Should the Hall of Fame honor teams?

One of my regular readers emailed me and another blogger earlier week. The reader wrote:


We know the HOF honors indivdual players, but has anyone thought about having a way to honor great teams? Maybe select no more than one or two teams per decade from each league perhaps? If there aren’t any teams that measure up in any decade, then you don’t have to enshrine any.

I like the idea. While much of the rest of the blogosphere is writing about the playoffs (and expect something here on Monday about the Giants and Phillies– I’m just waiting for first blood) I thought I’d offer some thoughts on teams that could be enshrined in Cooperstown.

The following is purely subjective, as my posts about the Hall of Fame often are. This is merely a starting point, and I invite others to expand upon it.

Here are my picks:

1901-1910: Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Giants: What a difference a century makes. The Bucs won at least 90 games eight out of the first ten years of the 20th century and appeared in two World Series, winning in 1909. The Giants were perhaps baseball’s worst team at the start of the decade but transformed into contenders after John McGraw became manager in 1903. Interestingly, both these teams got great raiding others: Pittsburgh plucked Honus Wagner and others from the Louisville Colonels and McGraw brought much of the old Baltimore Orioles roster with him when he joined the Giants. Nefarious perhaps, but it worked brilliantly.

1911-1920: Philadelphia Athletics, Boston Red Sox: Connie Mack’s first dynasty produced three World Series appearances and two titles in the first four years of the decade, led by players like Hall of Fame pitcher Chief Bender. The Red Sox are here because they won four World Series in the decade (including three times with young ace Babe Ruth) and because the last title was followed by an 86-year championship drought.

1921-1930: New York Yankees, Philadelphia Athletics: Some people regard the Murderers Row Yankees as the best team in baseball history, though Sports Illustrated put out a cover story some years back suggesting they were rivaled by Mack’s second dynasty that gelled at the end of the ’20s.

1931-1940: St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees: The Gashouse Gang produced two World Series championships, 1931 and 1934. It marked the triumph of St. Louis general manager Branch Rickey and his brainchild: the farm system. Meanwhile, the Yankees in the ’30s had, at different times, an aging Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio turning in productive years. It helped for a staggering five World Series titles between 1931 and 1940, with no worse than a third place finish any year of the decade. Four times in club history, the Yankees have scored more than 1,000 runs in a season. These years were 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1936.

1941-1950: St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers: Stan Musial missed most of World War II, and it helped the Cardinals become a dominant team once more, winning three World Series between 1942 and 1946. The Dodgers would be on here even if they were a terrible team in those years (they weren’t) as they broke baseball’s color barrier with Jackie Robinson in 1947, another Branch Rickey idea.

1951-1960: New York Yankees, New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers: New York was again baseball’s capital in the 1950s, with every World Series between 1951 and 1958 featuring a New York team. So many of baseball’s icons played at least a year in New York in the ’50s from Robinson and Duke Snider on the Boys of Summer Dodgers to DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle on the Yankees to Willie Mays on the Giants.

1961-1970: St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers: Baseball was all about pitching in the 1960s, and these two teams exemplified this. The Cardinals were a machine led by Hall of Fame hurler Bob Gibson, who delivered Game Seven victories in the 1964 and 1967 World Series and then amassed a modern era-record 1.12 ERA in 1968, only to fall to the Tigers in the World Series. The Dodgers also won two World Series and made it to another behind ace Sandy Koufax.

1971-1980: Oakland Athletics, Cincinnati Reds: Two of baseball’s more colorful clubs, the Mustache Gang A’s and Big Red Machine accounted for every World Series title between 1972 and 1976. Perhaps no two teams in the same decade were so filled with characters– and talent. Oakland and Cincinnati also signified another thing in baseball in the ’70s: the abrogation of the Reserve Clause which led to both clubs losing core players.

1981-1990: No one: Perhaps the Dodgers deserve recognition, seeing as they won the World Series in 1981 and again in 1988. But compared to most of the other teams written of here, these LA clubs seem nowhere near as memorable. In general, this was a decade defined by teams I don’t care to celebrate: the steroid-addled A’s, the coked-out Mets. Why should Cooperstown lionize that?

1991-2000: New York Yankees: The Yankees resurrected themselves from a decade-long slump in the mid-1990s and became a powerhouse once more, winning the World Series in 1996, and again in 1998, 1999, and 2000. The ’96 club was even somewhat likable, a collection of non-superstars like Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams, led by everyman manager (everymanager?) Joe Torre.

2001-2010: Boston Red Sox: What’s the best way to shake off close to a century without a World Series title? By hiring a crack young general manager, assembling a contender, and winning everything twice in four years. In a decade where eight teams have won the World Series, Boston is the only club with multiple titles.

Any player/Any era: Sam Thompson

What he did: Thompson was a great 19th century hitter, batting above .370 four times, just missing the Triple Crown in 1895, and finishing with a .331 career batting average, good for an eventual spot in the Hall of Fame. He came up this week in a forum on Rob Neyer’s site, Imagine Sports. A member linked to my piece on Roberto Clemente, and a brief discussion ensued. One person remarked:

frank howard and sam thompson could have used different eras

I mentioned Howard in a column on Harmon Killebrew. Like Killebrew, Howard did some of his best work in the 1960s when pitchers ruled. In a hitters era, Howard might have been a Hall of Famer. Using the converter on Baseball-Reference.com, I found if Howard played every season of his career on a team like the 1936 Cleveland Indians, he may have hit .325 lifetime with 469 home runs, far better than his actual totals of .273 and 382 homers (Killebrew converted to .300 with 687 homers.)

With Thompson, though, I’ll take a different approach than usual here. My thought is Thompson played in the best possible era for himself. In fact, in a different time, he might have had less of a chance at Cooperstown.

Era he might have thrived in: Thompson probably could have put up comparable numbers in two modern periods defined by hitters: The 1930s or the late 1990s. Still, he had a pretty sweet deal with the Phillies in the mid-1890s.

Why: On the 1894 Philadelphia Phillies, Billy Hamilton, Ed Delahanty, and Thompson comprised the only .400-hitting outfield in baseball history. I used to think the 1930 Phillies were the best-hitting team ever. They have nothing on their 1894 counterpart, which hit .350 as a club and still finished fourth, consequences of a 5.63 ERA as a team, I suppose.

That was part of a long run of great-hitting Phillies teams that Thompson played on. I don’t know if it was his era or his teammates, but more times than not, Thompson’s teams hit at least .280. When Thompson hit well, so did his teams generally. Here’s a chart listing how their batting averages compared:

Year Team League Team Batting
Thompson AB
1885 Detroit Wolverines NL .243 .303 254
1886 Detroit Wolverines NL .280 .310 503
1887 Detroit Wolverines NL .299 .372 545
1888 Detroit Wolverines NL .263 .282 238
1889 Philadelphia Quakers NL .266 .296 533
1890 Philadelphia Phillies NL .269 .313 549
1891 Philadelphia Phillies NL .252 .294 554
1892 Philadelphia Phillies NL .262 .305 609
1893 Philadelphia Phillies NL .301 .370 600
1894 Philadelphia Phillies NL .350 .415 451
1895 Philadelphia Phillies NL .330 .392 538
1896 Philadelphia Phillies NL .295 .298 577
1897 Philadelphia Phillies NL .293 .231 13
1898 Philadelphia Phillies NL .280 .349 63
1906 Detroit Tigers AL .242 .226 31

Not many teams in baseball history hit like the clubs Thompson starred for in the mid-1890s. I found a list on Retrosheet.org of the greatest-hitting teams in the modern era. The 1930 Phillies hit .315, with Chuck Klein and Lefty O’Doul each hitting above .380– the converter shows Thompson hitting .335 lifetime for them, only a few points better than his actual average. On the 1921 Detroit Tigers, who hit .316 and boasted Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann hitting .389 and .394 respectively, Thompson’s lifetime batting average would drop to .310. Even with the 1930 Yankees who hit a modern-best .319, Thompson would hit .314 for his career.

About the only noticeable jump for Thompson’s stats was with the 1999 Rockies, who hit .288 and boasted four 30-home run hitters. Playing every year of his career on a team like them, Thompson would hit .341 lifetime with a 214 RBI season for his converted 1887 totals. But I suspect this might get him accused of steroid use. In real life, it took more than 50 years beyond Thompson’s death to get him inducted into the Hall of Fame. He might have an even harder time making it now.

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

Others in this series: Albert PujolsBarry Bonds, Bob CaruthersDom DiMaggioFritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon KillebrewHome Run BakerJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Nate ColbertPete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe JacksonThe Meusel BrothersTy Cobb