The Great Friday Link Out VII: Stretch

Am I talking about Willie McCovey, the time for Take Me Out to the Ball Game, or something Kevin Garnett did very little of before his workout for the Timberwolves prior to the 1995 NBA Draft?

  • Good news from Bill Miller of The On Deck Circle: Bill will start having his blog content hosted by next Wednesday, February 23. Thus, our series on the best players on bad teams will be wrapping up next week. My entry on Ernie Banks is my last contribution to the series, though I hope to collaborate with Bill again soon. For now, I have another series in the works with another blogger that I’ll announce as it nears launch.
  • Newest addition to the blogroll: Through The Fence Baseball, courtesy of founder Jamie Shoemaker who contacted me Thursday evening. At first glance, it looks like a nice new site with a full staff of writers, and Jamie said they’ve generated immediate momentum. That’s no easy feat.
  • Every baseball fan’s dream (at least I can relate.) The only question has been if this story is true. Apparently it is– Deadspin just got an interview.
  • More favorite obscure ballplayers, courtesy of Arne Christensen.
  • Could a team with an $11 million payroll win 90 games? Meet the all-minimum contract team.
  • Geoff Young offers a fine Sweet Spot post on Robin Yount, a different kind of player.
  • Teenagers who played at least 100 games in a season.
  • The annual SABR convention will be in Long Beach, California from July 6-10. Presentation proposals are due Sunday at midnight. Note to self: Pay membership dues, get proposal together, avoid temptation to save dollars by traveling to the convention by Greyhound from the Bay Area.

The most untouchable baseball records

Editor’s note: I’m pleased to present this article from Rory Paap, a regular contributor here. Rory writes and also contributes to the Hardball Times. After reading this article, check out his recent post for THT on if Grady Sizemore can save the Cleveland Indians.


There are quite a few baseball records that are considered untouchable. You can bucket them into three categories: streaks, single-season records, and career records. What I’d like to do here is decide which of these records is the most unbreakable, but I’d like to do it with a twist. Let’s start with career records and you’ll catch on to the twist soon enough.

There are a lot of notable career records that are difficult: Cy Young and 511 wins, Barry Bonds and seven MVP awards, Walter Johnson and 110 shutouts, Pete Rose and 4,256 base hits, Bonds again with 2,558 walks, Bonds again with 688 intentional walks, Sam Crawford with 309 triples, Cy Young with 749 complete games, Ty Cobb with a .367 lifetime batting average, Nolan Ryan’s 5,714 career strikeouts, Nolan Ryan’s seven no-hitters and Rickey Henderson with 1,406 career stolen bases.

Some of these records are unbreakable because they’re impossible, not because they are hard. For example, no player will ever again win 511 games in their career, as Cy Young did. That’s an untouchable record. But if I sit here and tell you that, is it compelling? You’re certainly entitled to your own opinion, but it’s not. Not by a long shot in my book.

Why is that? Well, it’s pretty simple. Pitchers don’t pitch nearly as many games or innings as they used to. It’s nothing like when Young pitched and that became even truer when the trend in baseball went from a four-man to a five-man rotation in the early 1970s. If a pitcher is exceptionally healthy he will make 34 starts in a season. If he was exceptionally healthy and won every start for 15 seasons, he would win 510 games. Difficult? Damn near impossible. I’m eliminating it from contention.

Walter Johnson’s 110 shutouts is an exceedingly impressive record as well, but also exceedingly undoable. With the five-man rotation, modern pitch counts, and specialized bullpens, it’s not a reachable goal. Cy’s complete games record is unfathomable.

How about Bonds’ seven MVPs? That’s difficult and there’s nothing that’s changed that would preclude a player from winning an armful of those. It’s gone off my list. Rose’s hit record stays, and I think Ichiro would have been just the man to challenge it had he not played in Japan prior to coming to the MLB. Both of Bonds’ walk records seem untouchable but each fair game to challenge. I think Sam Crawford’s triples record is challengeable too, not that anyone will ever catch him. Ty Cobb and his .367 career average is ridiculous, but I’ll leave it in. Same with Ryan’s strikeouts and no-hitters as well as Henderson’s stolen bags.

We’re off to a rousing start. But let’s speed up the pace.

There are a bunch of great streaks too: Joe Dimaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Ted Williams’ 84 straight games reaching base, Vince Coleman stole 50 straight bags without being caught, Johnny Vander Meer’s two consecutive no-hitters, Orel Hershiser’s 59 straight scoreless innings, Carl Hubbell’s 24 straight wins, Don Drysdale’s six consecutive shutouts, Cal Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive starts, Bonds’ four consecutive MVPs, Randy Johnson’s and Greg Maddux’s four consecutive Cy Young awards, Brooks Robinson and Jim Kaat each won 16 straight Gold Glove’s and Eric Gagne once saved 84 games in a row.

It’s time to trim the fat on those. Hubbell’s 24 straight wins, while impressive, is ultimately dependant on offensive support so I’m discarding it from contention. I’m also tossing the 16 Gold Glove streak, considering the voters gave Derek Jeter one last season. I’ve never been big on popularity contests. The rest seem good to me.

In terms of single-season records, I like these best: Bonds’ 73 home runs, Bonds’ 232 walks in a season, Bonds’ 120 intentional walks in a season – maybe I should have made a Bonds category. Henderson stole 130 bases in a season and Jack Chesbro’s won 41 games.

We also have Ichiro’s 262 hits, Earl Webb’s 67 doubles, Chief Wilson’s 36 triples, Hack Wilson’s 191 RBI, Bonds’ 1,422 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). Matt Kilroy’s record of 520 strikeouts in a season, 1886 appears safe, but the modern record is Ryan’s 373 in 1973. How about Francisco Rodriguez’s 62 saves? Sorry, this is added to the who-gives-a-crap category. Bob Gibson’s modern record of a 1.12 ERA is very impressive.

Of these, we only need to throw out a couple: Chesbro’s 41 wins for the same reasons I junked Young’s 511 and Hubbell’s 24 consecutive as well as the Rodriguez’s 62 saves for reasons I’ve already stated. Also on the wins: even if baseball went back to a four man rotation, the pitcher would have to win every single game he pitched in order to get 41 wins. Sound reasonable? I didn’t think so.

For fun, let’s mix in some unenviable records. You’d hate to show up on this list. For single-season grounded into double plays (GIDP) we have Jim Rice with 36 – Watch out, Billy Butler is on your tail.

We also have strikeouts with the 223 that Mark Reynolds put up – he owns spots one, two and three and might eclipse them all in 2011 as he’s moving to the tougher league, and the AL East at that. How about the single-season wild pitches record? Mark Baldwin can sleep easy with 83. What, it’s not Rick Ankiel’s record?! It’s not the modern record, anyway. Juan Guzman managed a remarkable 26 in 1993. Bravo

It’s time to pick my favorites, which aren’t necessarily the toughest – I’ll pick three per category.

Career: Ryan’s 5,714 strikeouts, Henderson’s 1,406 stolen bases and… a wild card.

Three players hold the record for the most Sabermetric Triple Crowns in a career. Why have I chosen this? Because it’s awesome and I’m not much on the original Triple Crown (batting average, home runs, RBI). I’m using Fungoes’ version, i.e. the highest OBP, total bases (TB) and runs created (RC) in a season. It’s a three-way tie between Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. Of note is that Williams and Hornsby each won two traditional Triple Crown’s in their five Sabermetric Triple Crown seasons. They’re the only players in history with two.

To put this into context a bit, know that Bonds and Pujols were both completely dominant players in their peaks (Pujols is still technically in his) and each only have one Sabermetric Triple Crown to their name. That being said, Bonds likely would have won a few more were he not so feared; the number of walks he accumulated precluded him from reaching gaudy total base totals.

Streaks: DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak (obviously), Williams’ underrated record of 84 straight games of reaching base and Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive starts, which still absolutely boggles my mind. Others have tried (Miguel Tejada) and failed. Regrettably, ALS cut the previous record holder’s (Lou Gehrig) streak short.

Single-season: Ichiro’s 262 hits, Bonds’ 73 home runs and Henderson’ 130 stole bases.

What are your favorite records or those you believe are most difficult to challenge?

Any player/Any era: Mike Schmidt

What he did: I read a book last year where Ted Williams ranked the 20 greatest hitters all-time. When I saw Williams included Mike Schmidt, it seemed misguided given Schmidt’s .267 career batting average and 1,883 strikeouts, seventh-highest in baseball history. In addition, Schmidt’s OPS of .9076 is 56th all-time and his OPS+ of 147 is tied for 39th. Schmidt might be the greatest third baseman ever given that his OPS+ and his WAR, 108.3 are tops at the position and he ranks among the best defenders there too, but calling him one of the 20 greatest hitters seems a stretch.

This being said, Schmidt’s OPS+ totals hint he may have been another Hall of Famer who played in the wrong era. The .267 batting clip, while unsightly, can be partly explained by Schmidt playing from 1972 to 1989 where pitchers had a slight edge. Even his 548 home runs are less than what he might have had at a different time. Transported to a point in baseball history where hitters had a clear advantage, Schmidt might have a .300 lifetime batting average and 600 home runs.

Era he might have thrived in: There may be some old school fans who still consider Pie Traynor the best third baseman of all-time, since he hit .320, was one of the first players at his position inducted into the Hall of Fame, and had a distinctive name. (“My great hero in sports, when I was a kid, was Pie Traynor,” sportswriter Jimmy Cannon said in No Cheering in the Press Box. “He played a wonderful third base for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was particularly good against the Giants. I think the name fascinated me. I never heard of a guy called Pie before, except there was a homely girl in our neighborhood who we called Pieface.”)

Traynor’s OPS+ of 107 and WAR of 37.1 rank him far down the list of third basemen, though, and if we substitute Schmidt for Traynor on Pittsburgh from 1920 through 1937, even old-timers couldn’t deny Schmidt as an all-time great bat.

Why: Schmidt would go from a so-so time for hitters to one of the greatest and get to play on an offensive juggernaut to boot, the ’20s and ’30s Pirates who went to the World Series twice and boasted future Hall of Famers in their batting order like the Waner brothers, Max Carey, and Kiki Cuyler. Schmidt could be the lineup’s centerpiece. I ran his numbers through the stat converter on, and playing for Pittsburgh from 1920 through 1937, he comes out with 603 career homes and a .292 lifetime batting average.

While I set out merely to sub Schmidt for Traynor, giving him credit for the 1936 season Traynor sat out, there’s an odd synchronicity. Schmidt’s actual best seasons coincide in this exercise with peak offensive years in baseball history. Consider Schmidt’s best effort, his strike-shortened 1981 MVP season where he posted career highs in OPS (1.080) and OPS+ (199) to go with 31 home runs and 91 RBI. That season gets used here for 1929, and Schmidt comes out with an almost Ruthian .366 batting average, 56 home runs, 178 RBI, and a 1.236 OPS. The converter shows Schmidt having seven other 40-homer seasons, whereas he had three in real life.

I emailed one of the regulars here yesterday, and he replied, “Might want to rethink the Schmidt hrs. He had surprising speed. In Forbes [Field, where Pittsburgh played], it would have translated into more singles, doubles and triples.” There may be something to my reader’s point, and for what it’s worth, the converter has Schmidt with 2,445 hits, 444 doubles, 60 triples, and 200 steals lifetime. Regardless, it seems to me if we use .267 and 548 home runs as a baseline, Schmidt would only improve in Traynor’s era.

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 Pujols, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Michael Jordan, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

Remembering Chuck Tanner

Pittsburgh Pirates fans have known for months that Chuck Tanner was in poor health and fading fast. We saw him at PNC Park mid-summer at a weekend long celebration for the 1979 World Series championship team. From August 21-23, the Pirates honored Tanner, the players, coaches, families, and the uniform style from that season. Tickets went for $19.79 and the Friday night fans got one of those crazy looking caps that the players wore that season.

Tanner’s eulogies have been overwhelmingly positive. Most describe him as the nicest man in baseball and a sound strategist. Almost apologetically, some commentators made a passing reference to the blackest chapter in Pirates’ history—the cocaine scandal that engulfed the team during the early 1980s while Tanner was its pilot. While the consensus is that if Tanner didn’t know what was going on in the clubhouse, as he swore he didn’t, then he most certainly should have.

My Society for American Baseball Research colleague D. Bruce Brown in his daily trivia email reminded me of one the most amusing footnotes in recent baseball history that involved Tanner. On May 11, 1977 in a game against the hapless Atlanta Braves, Tanner became the only manager to defeat Ted Turner in his single managerial appearance. (Sign up for Brown’s email here. SABR members get extra hints; they’re helpful.)

The Braves, who would lose 101 games that year, were floundering under Dave Bristol’s direction. Turner sent his beleaguered manager on an extended “scouting trip” and replaced him in the dugout. Wearing uniform number 27, Turner watched his hapless Braves lose their seventeenth straight game, 2-1. Years later, Tanner named the Pirates winning pitcher, John Candelaria, as the hurler he would most like to have on the mound in a “must win” situation.

The next day Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and National League president Chub Feeney ruled that no one who owned stock in a club could manage it. Turner immediately declared the commissioner’s decision nonsense and said that it represented instead a vendetta against him. At the time, Turner was unpopular among other owners and with the baseball higher ups for his aggressive 1976 pursuit of free agent Gary Matthews that resulted in a one-year suspension eventually delayed on appeal.

Here are a few other fun facts about Tanner.

Born on Independence Day, Tanner hit a home run on the first major league pitch he ever saw. On Opening Day, April 12, 1955, Tanner pinch hit for Milwaukee Braves’ starter Warren Spahn in the bottom of the eigth inning and homered off the Cincinnati Reds’ Gerry Staley.

Then on July 19 at Forbes Field, Tanner played every inning against the Pirates during Vern Law’s heroic 18-inning start. Batting seventh in the right field slot, Tanner went 2-for-seven with an RBI.

As manager for the Chicago White Sox (1970-1975), the Oakland Athletics (1976), the Pirates (1977-1985) and the Atlanta Braves (1986-1988), Tanner won 1,352 games. A public viewing of Tanner was held Tuesday at the Cunningham Funeral Home in New Castle where he was born in 1929.

Other recent passings: George Crowe, Art Mahan, Gil McDougald, Billy Raimondi

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Harold Baines

Claim to fame: One of the first longtime designated hitters to build some support for Cooperstown, Baines hit .289 lifetime with 2,866 hits and 384 home runs. He might never have been a superstar, much of a defender, or someone I’d seriously consider voting into the Hall of Fame, but with 150 more hits, he’d probably have been a first ballot inductee.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Baines received 4.8 percent of the vote this year from the Baseball Writers Association of America, which will remove him from future ballots. In his four preceding years on the ballot, Baines never got more than about 6 percent of the writers vote.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Here’s an interesting quirk of baseball history. includes a Bill James-inspired metric called Similarity Scores which show how players compare based on career batting stats. For reasons I’ll explain momentarily, the player Al Kaline ranks most similar to for this metric is Baines.

Does this mean Baines was as good as Kaline, a first-ballot Hall of Famer? No. Kaline has the better lifetime batting average, a higher OPS+ and nearly three times as much WAR. More than that, Similarity Scores aren’t adjusted for era, meaning if Kaline played the second half of his career in the hitter-friendly 1990s or got to DH a lot like Baines, Kaline might have a .315 career batting average and 500 more hits. This says nothing about Kaline’s superior value in the outfield or as a franchise cornerstone of the Detroit Tigers. He earned his spot in Cooperstown.

But it wouldn’t seem outlandish to call Baines a poor man’s Kaline at the plate, and with 150 more hits, he’d already be in the Hall of Fame. Until Rafael Palmeiro this year, no eligible player with 3,000 hits had failed to be a first ballot inductee since 1952. Don’t ask me why the BBWAA assigns such significance to 3,000 hits. It isn’t like this with 300 wins, as Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, or Don Sutton know, nor with 500 home runs, which couldn’t get Harmon Killebrew into the Hall of Fame his first three tries. But 3,000 hits has meant first-round induction for, dare I say, lesser greats like Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, and Carl Yastrzemski.

Meanwhile, Al Oliver, who hit .303 lifetime with 2,743 hits received exactly 20 Hall of Fame votes his only year eligible, 1991. Baines has done markedly better than Oliver in Cooperstown voting for reasons I’m not completely sure of—Oliver has a slightly better WAR, 38.8 and played from 1968 to 1985, with most of his best years in a tougher time for hitters than Baines who played 1980 to 2001. Judging from his hitting stats, Oliver might be one of the more underrated players in baseball history. Neither man was anything less than a liability defensively, though if I had to choose one of them to DH for me, I’d take Oliver, no question.

All of this is not to knock Baines who had many All Star-caliber years, figured in nicely with some playoff teams, and would be a first rate member of a Hall of Very Good. But then, a player or two with 3,000 hits might belong there too.

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

Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al OliverAlbert Belle, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil TravisChipper Jones, Closers, Dan QuisenberryDave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Jack MorrisJoe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry WalkerMaury WillsMel HarderPete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark

The 10 most tragic baseball deaths

1. Lou Gehrig: Gehrig’s consecutive games streak ended in May 1939 after he was diagnosed with a terminal disease later named after him. Gehrig was dead in two years, though not before the Yankees honored him with Lou Gehrig Day on July 4, 1939. The image of Gehrig standing before microphones, teammates, and more than 70,000 fans is one of the most moving in baseball history. His words: “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

2. Roberto Clemente: The not-too-distant runner up here to Gehrig, Clemente’s death might be most heroic. Months after getting his 3,000th and final hit, Clemente was killed in a New Years Eve 1972 crash of a plane overloaded with relief supplies for earthquake victims. As it did with Gehrig, the Hall of Fame waived its five-year waiting period to immediately induct Clemente.

3. Christy Matthewson: The Hall of Fame pitcher and New York Giants legend died of tuberculosis at 45 in 1925, seven years after his lungs were seared with poison gas in a drill during World War I. Flags flew at half-staff at ballparks around the country after Matthewson’s death, and in 1936, he was the only deceased person among the first five players voted into Cooperstown.

4. Josh Gibson: Considered the black Babe Ruth, Gibson longed to be the first black player in the majors. But as the years passed, Gibson’s drinking worsened, and his physical and mental health deteriorated. He died of a stroke at 35 in January 1947, months after Branch Rickey signed black prospects Jackie Robinson and John Wright for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

5. Ray Chapman: The Cleveland Indians shortstop took a Carl Mays submarine fastball to his temple in August 1920, collapsed after two steps toward first base, and never regained consciousness. He remains the only Major League ballplayer to die in the line of duty.

6. Addie Joss: Joss was an ace Deadball Era pitcher for the Cleveland Indians who died in 1911 at 31 of meningitis. After Joss’s death, ballplayers arranged an All Star game for his widow’s benefit and raised $11,000, an early effort at organizing. Decades later, the Veterans Committee enshrined Joss.

7-8. Thurman Munson, Darryl Kile: Yankee captain Munson died in a plane crash in August 1979 at 32. Kile died in his sleep at the Cardinals team hotel in June 2002, hours before he was to pitch. After each player’s death, the Hall of Fame waived its five-year waiting period, though neither man came close to being enshrined.

9. Lyman Bostock: A promising 27-year-old outfielder for the California Angels and a finalist in the 1977 American League batting race, Bostock was shot to death in September 1978, as he rode in the back seat of a car in Gary, Indiana. Seemingly just in the wrong place at the wrong time, Bostock was shot by the estranged husband of a woman he was sitting next to who he’d met 20 minutes before, hours after a game against the White Sox.

10. Kirby Puckett: During his career, press and fans viewed Puckett as a lovable figure, “the closest thing to a smurf,” as Sports Illustrated noted. That image imploded after Puckett was accused of sexual assault, and while he was later vindicated, the damage was permanent. He ballooned to 300 pounds, developed hypertension, and died of a stroke at 45 in 2006.

(Editor’s note: Links to each player’s obituary on are provided, as available.)

Related posts: 10 best pitchers turned position players, 10 best pitching rotations without any Hall of Famers, 10 most durable position players,

For Irv Noren, Timing Was Everything

In baseball, as in all of life, to be in the right place at the right time is a wonderful thing.

So it was with Irv Noren, one of my early Hollywood Stars’ heroes. Generally remembered as a productive if not spectacular outfielder with the New York Yankees, Noren was the Stars’ 1949 Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Player. That year, the Stars’ finished in first place first with a 109-78 (187 games!) while Noren hit .330 with 29 home runs and 130 RBIs. Noren was also MVP of the Texas League in 1948 when he played for the Ft.Worth Panthers.

Noren still couldn’t crack the lineup of his parent team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Duke Snider, two years younger, had center field sewed up, Carl Furillo was a right field fixture and Gene Hermanski, a proven .290 hitter.

Since the Dodgers had no room for him, Noren’s big league career began with two solid years with the Washington Senators as an outfielder and first baseman. His 1950 stats: .295, 14 HR and 98 RBIs; in 1951, .279, 8 and 86.

Then, good luck struck. In May 1952, the Senators traded Noren along with Tom Upton to the Yankees for Jackie Jensen, Spec Shea, Jerry Snyder and Archie Wilson.

Yankee manager Casey Stengel foretold of Noren, “This fellow is big, smart and has all of the potential.”

Noren donned pinstripes just in time to be part of World Series championship teams in 1952, 1953 and 1956 and the American League title in 1955. For Noren, his trade represented going over night from the bottom of the baseball barrel in Washington to cashing World Series checks.

The trade was a sweet one for the Yankees, too. Not only did Noren provide a solid left handed bat, he platooned at two positions. Stengel juggled Johnny Mize, Joe Collins and Noren at first base. In the outfield, Stengel’s interchangeable players were Hank Bauer, Gene Woodling and Noren.

As recounted in Jane Leavy’s 2010 biography of Mickey Mantle, The Last Boy, Noren also figured in Mantle’s historic 1953 home run out of Griffith Stadium. At batting practice that day, April 17, 1953, Noren told Mantle he might be able to hit a ball out of the park. “I played there two years,” Noren told Leavy. “I knew the ballpark pretty good. The wind was blowing out a little–not a gale. And I always thought he had more power right-handed.”

At the end of the 1956 season, the Yankees traded Noren to the Kansas City Athletics with Mickey McDermott, Tom Morgan, Billy Hunter and three others in exchange for Art Ditmar, Bobby Shantz, Clete Boyer and three minor league prospects.

From 1957 to 1960, Noren played infrequently for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers before retiring.

But Noren remained in baseball as a minor league manager and major league coach. While piloting the Hawaii Islanders from 1962-1963, then the Los Angeles Angels AAA affiliate, Noren established a rule that any player who reported sunburned at game time would be fined $50.

Although no longer a Yankee, Noren would have one more taste of World Series money. As a coach for the Oakland Athletics from 1972-1974, Noren cashed three more checks.

Noren played in the 1954 All Star Game and in 1946-1947 was a member of the National Basketball League’s Chicago American Gears where he teamed with the great George Mikan. In 1947, the Gears defeated the Rochester Royals to win the NBL Championship.

Now age 86, Noren lives in Pasadena.

The Great Friday Link Out V: V is for Venable

Another Friday, another round of links to some stuff worth reading:

  • Bill Miller posted the latest installment of the series he and I are doing about good players on bad teams. This week, Bill features Mickey Lolich, the fine Detroit Tigers pitcher who seems a little underrated and forgotten today and will probably be more and more of each as time passes.
  • The following is my kind of post. Arne Christensen is asking people to come up with their Favorite Obscure Baseball Figure of All-Time. As I write this, it’s about 6 a.m. Friday, and I know I’ll spend at least some of my work day thinking of lots of these players, but for now, I’ll go with Ron Necciai, who once recorded 27 strikeouts in a minor league game.
  • Spring training cliche I know we’re all sick of: “He’s in the worst shape of his life!”
  • A friend asked me yesterday who I’d rather the Giants have had at shortstop than Miguel Tejada, Edgar Renteria, or Jose Juan Uribe. Here’s one option they missed.
  • New Hardball Times contributor Rory Paap, whose writing also can be found on this site from time to time, posted something on his own site Thursday evening looking for the cracks in WAR. Keep up all your good work, Rory!
  • Great Moments in Sabremetrics: Potential routine bashing of Murray Chass morphs into an involved discussion about opera

Any player/Any era: Prince Fielder

What he did: I sometimes talk up the late 1930s, an offensive Golden Age for first basemen in the American League when Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Hal Trosky, and Zeke Bonura created perhaps the greatest depth ever at the position. I’ve written about how other lumbering sluggers like Harmon Killebrew and Frank Howard would boost their stats, particularly batting average, playing in the era. Add Prince Fielder to their ranks. A .279 lifetime hitter mostly known for his power, Fielder might hit .330 in a season and challenge for the home run record on the right 1930s team.

Era he might have thrived in: The Boston Red Sox resided in the bottom half of the American League every season from the time Babe Ruth left town in 1920 until the mid-1930s, finishing last nine times in 15 years. Things began to turn around after Tom Yawkey bought the team in 1933 and started buying future Hall of Famers like Lefty Grove, Joe Cronin, and prior to the 1936 season, Foxx. For our purposes, we’ll suspend disbelief about Fielder playing in the majors as a black man prior to 1947 and substitute him for Foxx. Statistically, he’d have a historic season.

Why: I don’t know if anyone could have hit .330 with 40 home runs and 130 RBI in the 1930s but it sometimes seems like it, be it for the majors’ lack of good pitching in those days, a higher average of runs per game, or other factors I’m not aware of. Whatever the case, taking sluggers from less hitter-friendly eras and running their numbers through the stat converter on can yield some cartoonish results, especially in a notorious hitters enclave like Fenway Park. Fielder has averaged 38 home runs each of his full seasons in the majors, but that’s nothing compared to what he might do decades prior with Boston.

Of his six seasons in the majors to date, Fielder converts best to 1936 for his 2007 and 2009 efforts. For 2007, he’d have more home runs, 58, though his production is best converted for 2009. The converter has the Fielder of 2009 on the 1936 Red Sox with 55 home runs, 181 RBI, and a .346 batting average and 1.161 OPS, which trumps Foxx’s 1936 numbers of 41 home runs, 143 RBI and a .338 batting average and 1.071 OPS. Of course, Foxx rose to hit 50 home runs with 175 RBI and a .349 batting average and 1.166 OPS, so Fielder would have to sustain his production, but it doesn’t seem outlandish to suggest he might have been an upgrade over Foxx.

It’s a shame blacks weren’t allowed in the majors until 1947, and a part of me wonders how ’30s sluggers like Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard might have done on a team like the Red Sox (which was pathetically slow to add black players even after the majors finally integrated.) I can’t help but wonder if black position players missed out on more offensive records by being kept from the majors until after World War II when the game had shifted to favor pitchers. It makes me respect legends like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Frank Robinson all the more. In a sense, they’re underrated.

I don’t mean to suggest any black player would put up insane numbers in the 1930s (Harold Reynolds would still be Harold Reynolds in any era), and there are plenty of white players like Killebrew or Howard who could have benefited playing in the greatest offensive period in baseball history short of the late 1990s. Still, I have to wonder. Maybe Gibson, who was considered the “Black Babe Ruth” or Leonard, the “Black Lou Gehrig,” could have had Fielder’s projected numbers from 1936, maybe better. We’ll never know.

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 Pujols, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Michael Jordan, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

To Major League Baseball Owners, Millions Don’t Matter

Everyone baseball fan has his personal favorite of the most outrageous off season, multimillion dollar free agent signing. A close friend, for example, can’t get over the Chicago Cubs inking .196 hitter Carlos Pena to a $10 million, one year contract. While playing for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, the 33-year-old Pena struck out 158 times in 484 at bats while also hitting 28 home runs with 84 RBIs.

All I can say is $10 million isn’t what it used to be.

Around Pittsburgh, the consensus is that Jeff Karstens $1.1 million, one-year contract was overly generous given his 2010 stats. Karstens pitched in only 26 games, started 19, finished none, saved none, totaled a mere 122 innings and ended the year with a 3-10 record, a 4.92 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP. Although he rarely escapes the fifth inning, Karstens earned nearly a threefold salary increase.

For me, however, the corker is the New York Yankees’ adding Ardruw Jones to its roster. Putting aside his suspected use of PED’s, Jones is an older than his 33 years veteran whose best seasons are long behind him. In 2008, 2009 and 2010, Jones played one year each for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox. Last year with the White Sox, Jones batted .230 with 19 home runs and 48 RBIs.

I confess that no matter what Jones may accomplish with the Yankees, I’ll never be able to view him positively. On a beautiful 2008 Independence Day at San Francisco’s AT &T Park, I saw Jones take a 0-5 collar. In more than five decades of watching major league baseball, I’ve never seen anyone more over-matched at the plate than Jones was that day.

Playing for the league leading Dodgers, Jones struck out swinging three times in a row and then took a called third strike before finally tapping a weak ground ball to third.

A look at the pitchers who handled Jones with such ease isn’t flattering either: Jonathan Sanchez, Alex Hinshaw and Jack Taschner.

But Jones’ ineptitude didn’t keep the Dodgers from winning 10-7 in a fun back and forth game between the two intrastate rivals. And, of course, any summer afternoon watching baseball at AT&T Park is always a memorable day whether your team wins or not.