Any player/Any era: Cesar Cedeño

What he did: Cedeño may rank as one of the great “What If?” players in baseball history. Not long after Cedeño debuted with the Houston Astros in 1970, Leo Durocher declared him the next Willie Mays. And while the centerfielder had power good for 199 homers and speed that netted him 550 steals to go with a .285 batting average, he didn’t come close to reaching his Hall of Fame potential. In fact, Cedeño received just two votes out of 430 ballots in 1992, the only year he was eligible for Cooperstown with the writers. Many things hurt his cause, including: 1) A reckless temper and style of play that led to injuries and legal problems; 2) Playing his best years in the cavernous Astrodome; 3) Having his career in the 1970s and ’80s, no great time for hitters.

Era he might have thrived in: With his speed and contact, Cedeño would have appealed to Branch Rickey. Cedeño might not have had the temperament to stand in for Jackie Robinson at Rickey’s behest and stoically break baseball’s color barrier in 1947. But assuming we suspend disbelief about Cedeño’s dark skin color keeping him from the majors prior to this, he might have been a hit with Rickey’s other dynasty, the Gashouse Gang-era St. Louis Cardinals of the 1930s. And considering he’d be playing with future Veterans Committee head Frankie Frisch, who famously enshrined several of his teammates, Cedeño’s place in Cooperstown would probably be assured.

Why: The projected numbers speak for themselves. In 1972, Cedeño hit .320 with 22 home runs, 82 RBI and 55 steals, his OPS at .921, among the best ever by a Houston starter in the Astrodome years. On the 1931 Cardinals, these numbers convert to a .349 batting average, 25 home runs, 100 RBI, 62 steals and a 1.001 OPS. Cedeño might need to play right field since Pepper Martin and Chick Hafey wouldn’t be going anywhere, but otherwise, nothing would prevent Cedeño from playing a vital role on a championship team. He’d also be a young player in an offensive golden age, playing for a general manager who might help his attitude, too. That or he’d be just another one of the boys on those Cards, a fun-loving, hard-drinking club.

Are the projected numbers infallible? I doubt it. While Rickey signed players in part for foot speed and the Cardinals stole a lot of bases for their era, 114 in 1931 alone, it seems unlikely Cedeño could go for 62 steals that year. Granted, Ben Chapman led the American League with 61 steals in 1931, but it was somewhat aberrational. From the dawn of the Live Ball Era around 1920 to Luis Aparicio and Maury Wills revolutionizing the base paths 40 years later, stolen bases were a largely forgotten art in the majors. Frisch led the National League in 1931 with 28, and that’s not even the lowest total for a leader in that generation. All the same, Cedeño could have a shot at 30 steals. A 40-40 season more than a half century before Jose Canseco doesn’t even seem out of the question.

There’s also a question of whether a 21-year-old Cedeño could find a spot in St. Louis’s batting lineup. Rickey famously developed his teams through his farm system and rarely brought up young starters or kept old players around. The ’31 Cardinals exemplify this: Aside from 25-year-old shortstop Charlie Gelbert and 36-year-old third baseman Sparky Adams, every starter was in his late 20s or early 30s. Still, there were occasional exceptions, like Johnny Mize who became the Cardinals’ starting first baseman as a 23-year-old rookie in 1936. Perhaps Cedeño could follow his lead. Regardless, Cedeño would shine whenever he got his moment with those Cardinals.

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

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

The 1947 PCL Beavers: If Only Vic Raschi Had Stayed in Portland All Year

About three weeks ago, thanks in large part to Baseball: Past and Present, I received an invitation to attend the annual Oldtimers and Active Baseball Players Association of Portland, Oregon dinner. One of the Oregon event organizers members who lived in Pittsburgh during the 1950s and had attended the game at the old Forbes Field read my blog about Vernon Law and his 18-inning masterpiece.  An exchange about the Pirates then and now ensued, an offer was extended, and before I knew it, I had booked an airline flight to Portland.

Having grown up in Los Angeles during the old Pacific Coast League’s heyday, I had a working knowledge of the Portland Beavers, one of the of the league’s original teams. But since I rooted exclusively for the Hollywood Stars and only followed their bitter cross-town rival Angels,  all I really could tell anyone about the Beavers from that era (1950-1957) is that the team consistently finished in the middle or at bottom of the pack with uninspiring records like 101-99 (1950), 92-88 (1952), 71-94 (1954) and, gasp, 60-108 (1957).

Thinking that my Portland welcome might be warmer if I had something more positive to say about the Beavers other than that they were perennial losers, I turned to my book shelf and pulled out “The Portland Beavers” by Kip Carlson and Paul Anderson.

Beavers’ history is rich indeed! Among the Beavers that would make their mark in the major leagues were such stalwarts as Luis Tiant, Lou Pinella, Satchel Paige, Rickey Henderson, Ray Fosse, Mike Shannon and Vic Raschi who, in 1947, was on loan from the New York Yankees.

Around Portland, there may still be lingering curiosity about what might have been had Raschi not been returned to the Yankees mid-season.

When Raschi reported to spring training in 1947, he was confident that based on his strong late 1946 performance he had made the Yankees’ starting rotation. But that year manager Bucky Harris inexplicably turned over the pitching coach duties to Charlie Dressen, a notoriously bad and unpopular handler of hurlers.

In Florida, Dressen limited Raschi to throwing batting practice. Just before the Yankees headed north, Raschi was ordered to report to the Beavers. Disgusted, Raschi instead went home to his wife Sally in Conesus, New York. After several calls from the Yankees threatening to banish him for life unless he went to Portland, Raschi reluctantly headed to the Northwest.

Once in Portland, Raschi met pitching mentor Jim Turner who would provide the keys to his years of pitching success with the Yankees and then the St. Louis Cardinals.

Tuner convinced Raschi that to win, he would need to pitch aggressively inside. As Raschi recalled in an interview late in his life, Turner told him:

“You have to crucify those sons of bitches, Vic. Murder them, crucify them, kill them.”

After a few weeks, Turner had so deeply instilled the mantra of “up and in” that Raschi dominated the PCL with his fearsome pitching and went 8-2 with a 2.75 ERA. By July, Turner knew that it was time for Raschi to return to the Yankees. After Turner placed a call to Yankees general manager George Weiss, Raschi was on his way back to New York. Although the Yankees were in the midst of a formidable winning streak, their pitchers’ arms were tired.

Raschi and Bobo Newsome, acquired in a trade, arrived in New York on the same day, started and won both ends of a double header against the White Sox in Chicago on the team’s way to 19 consecutive victories. Raschi ended the year with a 7-2 record, a 3.87 ERA and helped lead his team to a World Championship.

Meanwhile back in Portland, the Beavers finished 8-1/2 games behind the pennant winning Angels and 7-1/2 behind the second place Seals. Beavers’ fans, in one of those baseball questions that can never be answered, were left to wonder if Raschi would have made the difference between third and first.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Vince Coleman

Claim to fame: I saw Vince Coleman got a few votes in my recent project on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame, six votes out of 86 ballots to be precise, and I noticed something interesting. I noticed this thing again in a forum discussion on Monday over at Baseball Think Factory. That thing I noticed goes something like this: A lot of people want to see Tim Raines in the Hall of Fame (including yours truly), and Raines has 808 stolen bases and is fifth on the all-time steals list. Coleman has 752 steals and is sixth. If Raines goes in the Hall of Fame, does Coleman need to also be enshrined? The short answer is no, but let’s explore that question further.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Coleman received 0.6 percent of the vote his only year on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for Cooperstown in 2003. Under the Veterans Committee’s new format of considering players depending on their era, Coleman will first be eligible with the committee in 2019.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? So Vince Coleman has 752 steals. He also led the National League his first six seasons and stole over 100 bases each of his first three years in the majors. He even had pretty good efficiency, being caught stealing just 177 times for an 81 percent success rate. Does this make Coleman a Hall of Famer? Eh, not really.

Coleman’s essentially a one-trick pony. Besides a lot of stolen bases, I’m not sure what else his Hall of Fame case consists of. Coleman hit .264 lifetime and had 1,425 hits in 13 seasons. His lifetime OPS+ of 83 would very nearly be the worst of any position player enshrined, just beating Rabbit Maranville’s 82. Without checking, Coleman’s career Wins Above Replacement of 9.4 would seemingly be the lowest by far of any player in Cooperstown, making Tommy McCarthy and his 19.0 WAR look epic. Cooperstown’s enshrined some lousy candidates before, but Coleman would vault almost instantly to the top of any list of the worst players in the Hall of Fame. There could be a dual ceremony while he was being inducted.

And then there are the extracurricular points against Coleman that my Twitter followers educated me on, such as:

  • As a rookie, Coleman professed to not know who Jackie Robinson was. (credit @lecroy24fan)
  • Coleman threw cherry bombs at kids in the Dodger Stadium parking lot. (credit @Joeneverleft)
  • While warming up on-field, he once got run over by an automatic tarp. Better, it happened in the postseason and knocked Coleman out for the duration while his St. Louis Cardinals went on to lose the World Series. You cannot make this up. (credit @lecroy24fan and @baseballtwit)
I have a hunch Raines will eventually be honored by the Veterans Committee. When that happens, it will be interesting to see if traditional baseball media makes any to-do about Coleman. Raines dwarfs Coleman for stats, with a far better OPS+ rating, about twice as many hits, and nearly seven times as much WAR, but Hall of Fame voters don’t always closely follow sabermetrics. In fact, they rarely do.

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

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie ReynoldsBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon Mattingly,Don NewcombeGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiLarry Walker,Manny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete Browning,Phil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger Maris, Ron CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSmoky Joe WoodSteve
,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaWill Clark

The All-Japanese All-Star Team

Editor’s note: I’m pleased to present the latest piece from Alex Putterman, a regular contributor here.

Four weeks ago, I unveiled my all-time all-Jewish all-star team. Now, in honor of the $51.7 million bid that won the Texas Rangers the rights to negotiate with Japanese star pitcher Yu Darvish, I present the all-time all-Japanese all-star team (of players who played in the Major Leagues). The migration of Japan’s talent to the United States has been a relatively recent phenomenon, so this team lacks much of the depth the Jewish team boasted but, led by future Hall-of-Famer Ichiro Suzuki, claims some degree of star-power.

C Kenji Johjima – Johjima is actually the only Japanese-born catcher to appear in Major League Baseball (Kurt Suzuki is of Japanese descent but was born in Hawaii and is a fourth-generation American), giving him this spot on the list by default. Johjima broke into the Majors with a bang, batting .289 with 32 home runs in his first two seasons with the Seattle Mariners, before declining in productivity and returning to Japan in 2009, after a four-year career in American baseball.

1B N/A – There has never been a Japanese-born first baseman in the Major Leagues, but Nippon Professional Baseball legend Sadaharu Oh won 15 home run titles in his 22-year career playing first base for the Yomiuri Giants and owns Japan’s records for home runs in a single-season (55) and a career (868).

2B Tad Iguchi – Second base happens to be somewhat of a hotspot for Japanese players, with Iguchi, Akinori Iwamura, and Kaz Matsui all having played the majority of their MLB games there. Iguchi was the only of the trio to play exclusively at second, and so he gets this position, while Matsui and Iwamura find spots elsewhere.

3B Akinori Iwamura – Iwamura played four MLB seasons, three of them in Tampa Bay, and was the starting second baseman on the Rays’ pennant-winning 2008 team. But the infielder performed best during his rookie season, when he posted career highs in home runs, stolen bases, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS+ and WAR while playing third base.

SS Kaz Matsui – Matsui was, like Iwamura, primarily a second baseman but played shortstop as a Mets rookie (with a young Jose Reyes stationed at second). Matsui initially failed to live up to high expectations, struggling mightily during his time in New York, before reviving his career in Colorado following a 2006 trade.

LF Hideki Matsui – Probably the second most accomplished Japanese-born MLB player, Matsui has batted .285 and knocked 173 home runs in nine seasons with the Yankees, Angels and Athletics. A six-RBI performance in game six of the 2009 World Series earned him Series MVP honors, concluding a successful but somewhat injury-prone Yankee career.

RF Ichiro – The inarguable greatest Japanese Major Leaguer of all-time, Ichiro broke into the bigs with Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in his rookie season. And unlike other Japanese players who began their careers strong and then faded (see: Nomo, Matsuzaka, Fukudome, Iwamura, Johjima, Sasaki, Okajima) the Mariner outfielder built off his initial success and put together a career worthy of Cooperstown. Though his best days are behind him, Ichiro can already claim two batting titles, over 2,400 career hits, over 400 career stolen bases, and the MLB single-season hits record (262, set in 2004).

CF Kosuke Fukodome – A 3-run game-tying home run in Fukodome’s first MLB game and a .337 batting average in his first month in America made the outfielder a cult hero in Chicago, and while that level of success didn’t last long, Fukodome’s career has been a moderate success. He’s hit between .257 and .263 in each of his four MLB seasons and added above-average defense to a solid bat. Although primarily a rightfielder, Fukudome has played enough games in center (138) to warrant this position on this list.

With the dearth of Japanese position players already evident in the starting lineup, the all-time Japanese team’s bench is pathetically shallow. So Taguchi had his moments, contributing to the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series championship team. Beyond that, we don’t have much. There is no second catcher to bring off the bench, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka is the default utility infielder despite a disastrous rookie season in 2011. Outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo was the first Japanese-born player to play in the World Series, appearing in the 2000 Series for the Mets, but he didn’t amount to much thereafter. The only other Japanese Major League position player not yet mentioned here is Norihiro Nakamura, a third baseman, who lasted all of 17 games with the Dodgers in 2005, batting .128. On December 7, the Yankees won the rights to negotiate with infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima, who, if he signs, can round out this woefully unimpressive bench.

SP Hideo Nomo – If the Rangers come to terms with Darvish, they’ll be counting on him to surpass Nomo and assume the title of best Japanese pitcher to cross the Pacific. For now, the 1995 Rookie of the Year tops this rotation, having fooled the National League with an unconventional delivery and posted a 2.54 ERA (150 ERA+) in his first big league season, finishing 4th in Cy Young voting that year.

SP Daisuke Matsuzaka – Like Nomo, Dice-K began his career strong but has fizzled as the league has figured him out. Unlike Nomo, who peaked as a rookie, Dice-K’s sophomore season was his strongest. That year, 2008, the Red Sox righty went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA (160 ERA+) and, like Nomo 13 years earlier, finished 4th in Cy Young voting.

SP Hiroki Kuroda – Kuroda is currently a free agent, with the Red Sox and Yankees considered among the front-runners for his services. The 36-year old has proved a reliable MLB starter, posting an ERA under 4.00 and an ERA+ over 100 in each of his four seasons stateside.

SP Tomo Ohka – Ohka quietly compiled a solid, decade-long MLB career, highlighted by an impressive 2002 campaign in which he won 13 games and finished 7th in the National League with a 3.18 ERA.

SP Masato Yoshii – Yoshii is less remembered than his contemporary Hideki Irabu (who gained his notoriety mostly by pitching poorly and being called a “Fat Toad” by George Steinbrenner), but Yoshii has a better career ERA, ERA+, WHIP, and WAR than Irabu.

Unlike the Jewish all-star team, the Japanese squad is very deep in the bullpen. Akinori OtsukaHideki OkajimaTakashi SaitoKoji UeharaShigetoshi Hasegawaand Kazuhiro Sasaki all enjoyed or continue to enjoy productive careers in the states. Honorable mention to Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese Major Leaguer, who pitched in 54 games during the 1964 and 1965 seasons before a resolution between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball which, for 30 years, kept Japan’s best away from America.

All I Want For Christmas Is…

The 2012 baseball season is approaching, if ever so slowly, and at this festive time of year there is something on everyone’s Christmas list.  This is especially true for the 30 general managers who run Major League Baseball. Some have long lists with not much money to spend, others have short lists with lots of money to spend and some have already finished their shopping. There are also three franchise problems which would be a nice Christmas gift for the respective fans this year. Here’s what should be on their lists.

Ownership situations need to be resolved. Franchise locations need to be resolved. It can’t be business as usual without a solution, a solution which, while it didn’t come in time for Christmas, might get done during the holidays or early in the New Year.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, a once storied franchise, need to find responsible ownership. It continues to be unresolved, and no doubt court cases might still be pending. Baseball needs to ensure that any new ownership is financially sound, morally focused and free from past restrictions. Commissioner Selig and former owner Frank McCourt need to step aside and let those not quite so emotionally involved find a solution which would be good for baseball and everyone involved. Los Angeles needs to be restored as a storied franchise. Let’s bury the hatchet but learn from past mistakes.

The New York Mets ownership needs to step aside finally.  Fred Wilpon doesn’t have the money or is unwilling to sell his various other financial interests to make the Mets a solid franchise again. Baseball needs to force his hand and not allow this situation to drag out any longer. While the dodgers have received most of the negative publicity while the Mets have been largely given a free ride by the press, push now has to come to shove. There must be more than qualified potential owners out there.  Let’s insist that one of them be allowed to take over this franchise. Baseball doesn’t need the distraction.

It seems that the Oakland A’s situation is moving closer to resolution. San Jose is ready and willing and some financial consideration for the San Francisco Giants to get them to drop their objections to territorial rights is likely all that is standing in the way.  GM Billy Beane has been tearing apart the A’s with his recent fire sale, (although he is getting a good return for his veterans), and not moving this franchise would negate all of his plans and further drive Oakland attendance downward. It is the obvious solution and one which would appear to have all the makings of a successful franchise. While I feel for those loyal A’s fans, they would still have a team. San Jose isn’t that far away.

Someone needs to find Prince Fielder nicely wrapped under the tree. Use the Christmas layaway plan if necessary but sign on the dotted line.  Max out those credit cards.  The Marlins, Nationals or Blue Jays have the money and have the need. Time is running out and there are not many star free agents left on the shelf. You know you’ve always wanted to own a high performance machine.  Think of how envious all your friends will be despite what they might be telling their friends. They will all be jealous, trust me.  There are approximately 24 other free agents out there, none in ultra premium category, but they all could fill a need somewhere.

The Los Angeles Angels have finished their Christmas shopping.  It appears that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have finished theirs. Tampa Bay needs a first baseman, The Chicago Cubs need everyone but a number one starting pitcher and teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres need a lot of everything can’t attract or perhaps afford the big ticket items.  Their Christmas lists go, for the most part, unfilled.  They can’t, or won’t shop in the big stores but keep scouring the local corner stores, hoping that something good is still on the shelf, it ever was.

Major League Baseball: My advice is to wrap up any remaining shopping and relax in front of the tree with a nice glass of wine and a warm fire. Merry Christmas everyone and have a great New Year. The countdown to Spring Training will begin tomorrow.

Any player/Any era: Elmer Flick

What he did: This week’s column was prompted by Cyril Morong, perhaps the best sabermetrician I know and an economics professor at San Antonio College. For anyone who hasn’t checked it out already, Cyril’s blog is well worth a read, a rare site that combines expert quantitative analysis with good writing. Cyril emailed me recently about Deadball Era great Flick, who factored into a post Cyril did two weeks ago about the 38 players in baseball history who had 150 OPS+ or better at least seven seasons apiece. Cyril suggested I do one of these columns on Flick, and in looking at Flick’s stats and SABR bio, a few things resonated.

Flick factored into one of the most famous trades ever that didn’t happen, right up there with the proposed 1947 deal of Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams or the 1916 trades the Yankees passed on that would’ve netted them Tris Speaker or Shoeless Joe Jackson for stolen base king Fritz Maisel. Before that in 1907, frustrated Detroit Tigers manager Hughie Jennings offered angry, young Ty Cobb to Cleveland for Elmer Flick. Cleveland countered with someone named Bunk Congalton, the deal died, and Detroit avoided major calamity: Flick developed a stomach ailment that ended his career in 1910 while Cobb played through 1926 with the Tigers. The two remained linked, with the Georgia Peach’s death in 1961 renewing interest in Flick and leading to his Hall of Fame induction in 1963.

Era he might have thrived in: With his slight build, 5’9″ and 168 pounds by generous estimate, it’s a wonder Flick fared as well as he did in the Deadball Era, hitting .313 lifetime with an OPS+ of 149. He also disliked Southern cooking and the heat on Eastern road trips and looks like a player who’d benefit being coddled in recent decades. Modern healthcare certainly might have prolonged Flick’s career. And his hard-hitting, fleet-footed style could go well in the 1980s with the Oakland A’s, an organization long appreciative of speed, power, and offensive production and willing to take risks on unconventional players. If not capable of 40 home runs and 40 steals in Oakland, Flick might at least be a 30-30 player.

Why: Never mind Flick’s 48 career home runs, a result of playing in the Deadball Era and its vast parks sometimes constructed to favor triples (Flick hit 164 lifetime.) Flick would have at least a couple hundred more homers in the Live Ball Era. I’d use the stat converter on to predict but one of the converter’s flaws is that it doesn’t realistically adjust Deadball Era offensive totals to modern day. Flick’s .445 lifetime slugging average hints at what might have been, though. Slugging percentage is calculated by dividing total bases by at-bats. Assuming we boost Flick’s total bases by 20 a year to account for a power boost, his slugging percentage would be .492 in the modern era. Looking at the 162-game averages of guys with similar slugging rates, I estimate Flick would hit 25-30 homers a season at his peak.

Granted, some things might be lost in the transition. Many players had gaudy stolen base totals before 1920, and it’d be interesting to see if Flick could still steal 30-40 bases a year and approach 330 lifetime. He’d be in the right place in Oakland though, as the A’s of the late ’80s stole 120-160 bases every year. Fielding looks less promising for Flick. In his own time, he struggled in the minors with an .821 fielding percentage one year, improving somewhat by the time he reached the majors. He racked up many assists thanks to the short right field dimensions of his first ballpark, the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia and the shallow positioning of outfielders back then. Today, Flick’s best lineup option might be as a designated hitter.

Whatever the case, Flick looks like an All Star at the plate alone. Whether playing most of his career at DH could get him in the Hall of Fame is another story, seeing as the best eligible DH in baseball history, Edgar Martinez is still waiting. But perhaps Flick could pave the way.

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

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

Merry Christmas to all and to Nellie Fox and Rickey Henderson, happy birthday

Two baseball Hall of Fame inductees, Nellie Fox and Rickey Henderson had the misfortune to have been born on Christmas Day. Unfortunately for them and others who suffered the same fate, that inevitably results in fewer presents no matter how well intended friends and family may be.

While I admire Henderson’s huge talents, I could never quite warm up to his personality. I’m put off by Henderson’s illeist attitude and his insistence on playing on long after he passed his peak.

Henderson on Henderson:

“If you talk about baseball, you can’t eliminate me because I’m all over baseball… It’s the truth. Telling the truth isn’t being cocky. What do you want me to say, that I didn’t put up the numbers? That my teams didn’t win a lot of games? People don’t want me to say anything about what I’ve done. Then why don’t you say it? Because if I don’t say it and you don’t say it, nobody says it.”

But make no mistake, Henderson was a superb player who, as Bill James once said, if you could split him in two, you would have two Hall of Famers.

Fox, one of the most recognizable players of the 1950s-1960s with his huge tobacco wad and bottle bat, is more to my liking. Undersized and with less natural talent than Henderson, Fox made the most out of what he had.

Originally drafted by the Philadelphia Athletics, Fox must have been disappointed when in 1949 he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. The Sox, after all, had All Star second baseman Cass Michaels at the keystone corner.

But Fox didn’t have to wait long for his break. In 1950, the Sox traded Michaels to the Washington Senators and gave Fox his first real opportunity. Fox’s determination was the overriding factor in his long term success.

Said Billy Pierce, Fox’s longtime teammate as well as his roomy for 11 years:

“Nellie was the greatest competitor I ever played with. Baseball, gin rummy, bowling … whatever he played, he just loved to compete.”

What I recall most vividly about Fox was his uncanny ability to make contact. Fox struck out only once in every 48 plate appearances during his career and never more than 18 times in a season despite averaging about 700 PAs during the peak of his career. In 1959, the Go Go Sox American League championship season, Fox struck out only 13 times in 716 PAs.

If you believe as I do that what others say about you is more important than what you say about yourself, consider Whitey Ford’s remark about Fox:

“Nellie was the toughest out for me. In 12 years I struck him out once, and I think the umpire blew the call.”

Fox died in 1975. Only 47, he succumbed to a rare form of skin cancer.

This summer, Henderson was at the Oakland Coliseum teaching the young Athletics how to steal bases. Who better for that job than the man who stole a major league record number of them: 1,406.

Yu Darvish: Dice-Redux?

The Texas Rangers won the right to negotiate with Japanese sensation Yu Darvish, submitting a record $51.7 million bid. When will Major League Baseball learn?

Scouting reports attest that Darvish throws seven different pitches, all with extraordinary skill. The hype surrounding Darvish is reminiscent of Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Red Sox bust who never came close to living up to his reputation as the savior–in-waiting for the Boston staff.  Remember the Gyro ball which through its “double spin” mechanics was going to baffle even the most fearsome American League hitters? You could buy a Dice-K DVD that explained the Gyro ball’s mysteries.

As it turned out, Dice-K’s specialty was walking batters and putting his defense to sleep while he threw pitch after errant pitch. Early this summer, Dice-K announced that he will have Tommy John surgery which will sideline him for 2012. In all likelihood, the next time Matsuzaka pitches will be in Japan when he rejoins one of the national teams. [Surgery for Daisuke Matsuzaka, ESPN, June 6, 2011]

Given the opportunity, Red Sox owners would trip all over themselves to get their $100 million plus back.

Maybe Darvish will be cheap at whatever price he signs for. Maybe he will lead the Blue Jays back to the World Series. Nevertheless, I’m opposed to globalism in baseball (and, for that matter in everything else) and therefore against his signing.

My reasoning could fill a book but I’ll summarize briefly.

Baseball is an American thing, and I want to see Americans playing it. Darvish probably is better than any pitcher at Rice University or Fresno State. But I enjoy watching those young Americans more than I do foreign-born players. I propose to you that if you filled a major league roster with NCAA All Stars, you would get as much pleasure—if not more—out of rooting for them.

Here are some examples. If the World Baseball Class were played in my back yard, I wouldn’t get off my couch to watch them. On the other hand, if the local North Allegheny High School played rival Central Catholic Vikings, I might plan my weekend around it.

I delighted in David Freese’s 2011 World Series heroics and the San Francisco Giants’ 2010 celebration. Among the Giants’ piled on top of each other after the final out mob scene: Tim Lincecum (Washington), Buster Posey (New Hampshire), Matt Cain (Alabama), Madison Bumgarner (North Carolina), Nate Schierholtz (Nevada) and Cody Ross (New Mexico).

Compare that scene to the 2009 post-game interview with Most Valuable Player Hideki Matsui conducted through a Japanese translator which annoyed me then and the thought of which still irks me today.
Or, locally, Pittsburgh-born Pirates’ second baseman Neil Walker’s achievements have captured the town. Around here, Walker is known as “Mr. Pittsburgh.”

My opinions are certain to be interpreted as radically post-American by some and probably expose me as a fossilized fuddy-duddy tilting at windmills. I won’t argue.

But I won’t apologize either.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Ron Cey

What he did: Let’s be clear– I don’t consider Ron Cey a Hall of Famer. The point of this column isn’t to mount a hopeless case that Cey belongs in Cooperstown. The power-hitting third baseman didn’t come close to making the Top 50 in my recent project on the best players not in the Hall of Fame, receiving 13 votes out of 86, with just one voter saying he deserved a plaque. Don’t get me wrong, Cey was very good for much of his career, maybe even one of the best in the National League in the 1970s, hitting 316 home runs with a lifetime OPS+ of 121. His career WAR of 52.0 isn’t bad. But there may be dozens of other players who merit enshrinement before Cey.

I’m writing this column for different reasons. Specifically, I was inspired by a commenter here last week who argued that Steve Garvey deserved higher placement in the Top 50 because he batted before the .261-hitting Cey in the Dodger lineup. I looked on and found that Garvey and Cey had almost identical offensive production for their time in Los Angeles, posting OPS+ scores of 122 and 125, respectively. This being said, I doubt the commenter is alone in his misconceptions or that it was any help to Cey his only year on the ballot.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Cey was a one-and-done candidate, receiving 1.9 percent of the vote in 1993, his only year on the writers ballot. He became eligible with the Veterans Committee last year under its new format and can be considered again by the committee in two years.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Again, just so we’re clear, no, Ron Cey does not belong in the Hall of Fame. I’d appreciate if no one leaves a comment like, “Heck no! How can you even say Cey’s a Hall of Famer?” People see the titles here, don’t bother to read my posts, and treat the comment button like a trigger. It’s a little risky to feature players like Cey. But I think it makes for interesting copy.

I believe Cey and others suffer from the attitudes espoused by the commenter above. It’s easy to discount Cey for his .261 average, early decline, or relatively low career homer totals. Surface stats can sink a man’s shot at Cooperstown, even if a little more research suggests he might at least be worth more consideration. For Cey, the stakes aren’t as high, being that the research merely shows him to be as good or better than Garvey, one of the more overrated Hall of Fame candidates in recent years. I wouldn’t give either man a plaque.

Other more deserving men, though, may have suffered the same fate as Cey. Bert Blyleven was in this group for a long time, though last year he became perhaps the first player enshrined on the basis of sabermetrics. I doubt Cey will ever follow, and I don’t have any problem with this, but perhaps a few other underrated, misunderstood players like Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, and Rick Reuschel will eventually get their due.


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

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie ReynoldsBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert Blyleven, Bill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon Mattingly,Don NewcombeGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiLarry Walker,Manny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete Browning,Phil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon GuidryRon SantoSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaWill Clark

Hall of Fame project recap

A week has passed since I posted the results of my second annual project on the 50 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame, and things are going well in these parts.

We have a new traffic record here with just north of 7,200 unique visitors for the month as of yesterday. More than 5,000 of these visitors came to read the Hall of Fame project, with it being linked to at the Sweet Spot blog on, Hardball Talk (the baseball blog), Baseball Think Factory, and elsewhere. There’ve also been two cool original posts it’s inspired: an expanded case for Lip Pike and a list on the 10 best Yankees not in the Hall of Fame. It’s clear there’s an audience for our work and that it resonates with people, and I expect traffic numbers will continue to climb with next year’s project.

We can also expect a few thousand more visitors for the 2011 project over the coming year. We’re leading the search engines for this area, and traffic spikes both when the Hall of Fame voting results for the Baseball Writers Association of America come out in early January and again when players are enshrined in mid-July. I expect comments will keep coming, both positive and negative. Heck, the shanty Top 10 list I did back in 2009 (don’t judge me, but it sucks) still draws the occasional comment.

So what’s to come? I alluded near the end of my project’s results post that I’m already looking forward to next year. I plan to keep the foundation of the project the same, though there should be a few new wrinkles. I want to expand Super Ballot, get BBWAA members and former players voting, and automate the vote counting. I’d also like, if possible, to offer a free Baseball: Past and Present t-shirt to everyone who votes. I’m looking into options on this and am open to suggestions. Maybe anyone who’s done a mass run of t-shirts for their site can steer me in the right direction.

In the meantime, I want to keep improving this website. I’ve reached out to a few more people I’d like to write here, and I’ve started kicking around ideas for new content. If anyone has any ideas for posts or would like to write, please feel free to email me at I welcome all feedback, good or bad, laudatory or critical. On a side note, a small project is in the works for the spring. I’ll announce what it is around the beginning of the season.

I want to thank everyone who supports this site, be it by reading, writing, offering comments or emails, or doing anything else to help things run successfully around here. This site has life in part because it seems to connect with people. I hope this continues.