Hack Wilson: A Forgotten Star Who Burned Brightly and All Too Briefly

Editor’s note: “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame?” will return next week. For now, please enjoy this piece from Doug Bird.


Hack Wilson came from the Pennsylvania steel country and left school after the sixth grade.  He worked throughout his childhood and developed his enormous upper body strength swinging heavy hammers at a locomotive works. In this environment, Hack learned that hard work was usually followed by hard play and that the best way to win an argument was with his fists. In time, he would take this approach to the National League and become, for a brief time, one of its greatest power hitters.

Wilson was a 5’6”, 190 lb outfielder who played from 1923 until 1934.  In 1930, he had one of the greatest seasons in baseball history, setting a record that still stands with 191 runs batted in.  Hack is remembered more for his drinking and brawling, both on and off the field, than for his on-field career. And it definitely curtailed his career, with most of his lifetime 39.1 WAR being accumulated in a seven-year stretch between 1926 and 1932. In a sense, all of this and more makes Wilson underrated, one of baseball’s forgotten stars.

Wilson began his career in 1921 playing minor league baseball for Martinsville Blue Sox of the Blue Ridge League (Class D) Two years later he was promoted to the Virginia League (Class C.) Despite the fact that Wilson hit .356, .366 and .388 in the minors, most major league executives considered him too small to play in the big leagues. New York Giants manager John McGraw, only 5’7” himself, thought differently and signed Wilson to a contract in 1924. Hack hit a solid .295 that season but slumped to .239 the following season and was sent back to the minors and left unprotected. The Chicago Cubs quickly snapped him up for the sum of $5,000. Wilson had found a home.

Wilson won four home run titles from 1926 to 1930 and led the Cubs to the World Series in 1929.  He led the league in RBI in 1929 with 159.  His lowest batting average during those four seasons was .313. His lowest RBI total was 109 and the fewest home runs he hit were 21. Then came 1930.  Although Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg each had seasons of 170 RBI or more before and after 1930, Hack Wilson that year drove in a record 191 runs, a record which still stands  and established a then National League record for homeruns with 56.  He also batted .356 that season and was the league’s MVP.

But Wilson would never again reach those daunting heights. Four years later he was washed up, an alcoholic and out of baseball.  He had been the perfect fit for the roaring 20’s in Chicago an era in which excess of every kind was encouraged and admired, and Wilson hung out with the stars and the notorious elements of the city. It soon proved too good to last. At one point in the glory years, Wilson’s manager Rogers Hornsby stuck a worm in a drink, showing him what the alcohol did to it. He asked Wilson what he thought of it, and he replied, “If I drink, I won’t get worms.”

In 1931 Wilson was involved in several on and off field altercations, his fight with reporters just after boarding a train for Cincinnati on September 6 leading to his suspension for the remainder of the season. Wilson was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals the following season and then to the Brooklyn Dodgers where he had his last successful season. Mid-season 1934, Wilson was released by Brooklyn, briefly signed by Philadelphia before he was out of baseball for good. Wilson’s most memorable moment that final season came when he accidentally fielded a ball heaved at the Baker Bowl right field wall by a manager conferencing with his pitcher and fired a perfect throw to second base.

Wilson moved to Baltimore after several unsuccessful jobs as a bartender in Brooklyn and a goodwill ambassador for a Washington D.C. basketball team. Although he had made more than a quarter million dollars during his career– in 1931 alone, Wilson made $33,000 the highest-paid National League player– Wilson died on November 23, 1948, a penniless alcoholic. His funeral was paid for by bar patrons who passed the hat. His grey funeral suit was donated by his undertaker. His son did not attend the funeral. And though it would be another three decades before the Veterans Committee inducted Wilson into the Hall of Fame in 1979, he was already a forgotten man.

Enshrinement rates and the relative size of the Hall of Fame

Have you noticed what’s been happening recently? The Hall of Fame has been getting smaller, at least in relative size.

In one way, the HOF is like the Roach Motel. Players check in but they don’t check out. In absolute terms, the HOF can only get bigger. But I prefer a different view. For HOF players, as with any group, understanding who the outsiders are (and how many of them there are) is essential to defining the insiders.

The size of the HOF is best considered in relative terms. With slightly more than 200 MLB players enshrined in Cooperstown out of about 17,000 who have played at the major league level, about 1.2% of players have received the game’s highest honor. A metric that can be calculated is something I will call the enshrinement rate: the number of inductees, expressed as a percentage of the number of players who left the game five years earlier (allowing for the five-year lag between a player’s retirement and his becoming eligible for election). Because both quantities making up this rate can vary from one year to another, let’s consider enshrinement rates on a longer time scale, say, ten years. For example, for the 1960s (the years 1961 to 1970), 29 MLB players were enshrined. Newly eligible for enshrinement during this ten-year period were the 991 players whose careers ended in the years 1956 through 1965. Therefore, the enshrinement rate for the ‘60s was 2.9%. It does not mean that 2.9% of the ’56-’65 retirees were enshrined, since the Veterans Committee honorees in the ‘60s were players who had retired in earlier decades.

The ‘60s and ‘70s (also at 2.9%) were the high water mark for enshrinement rate. These were the years that, for better or worse, saw the most VC picks enter the Hall. In contrast, the enshrinement rate was 1.8% in the ‘50s, 2.2% in the ‘80s, and 2.1% in the ‘90s. More recently, we have seen a dramatic drop in the enshrinement rate, to 1.0% during the decade of the 2000s; 19 players were enshrined while 1887 players became eligible. This calculation does not include the Negro League honorees who entered by special election in 2006 and who played few, if any, games in the major leagues. While the HOF continues to grow in absolute numbers, it is now seeing a modest reduction in relative size.

I do not foresee a return to the enshrinement rates of the ‘60s and ‘70s. With 30 MLB teams, about 200 players end their major league careers each year. These days, even a 2.5% enshrinement rate would mean five players getting elected annually. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a year in which that many new players have gone to Cooperstown.

A significant elevation in enshrinement rate can probably happen only if the selection rules change. Giving the writers the opportunity to vote for more players will probably not make much difference, though, since even under the current system, many writers cast fewer than their allotted ten votes. Perhaps some elevation in enshrinement rate could come about if there were changes promoting greater activity from the VC. However, even if the induction rate were to rise to 1.5 or 2% (3 or 4 players a year) we would see only very slow growth from the current relative size of the HOF.

Although the 1% enshrinement rate of the past decade presents a fairly robust Small Hall scenario, if you’re a Small Hall guy you might be wishing for even lower enshrinement rates in the future. But how much lower can we go? I find it hard to imagine that between the writers and the VC we won’t average at least one new player in the HOF per year, or an enshrinement rate of at least 0.5%. This would reduce the relative size of the HOF, but slowly.

My best guess is that we will see enshrinement rates hovering somewhere between 1 and 1.5% in the decades ahead, which would have the HOF remaining nearly static in relative size. Even if we do see changes in the enshrinement rate, the ensuing change in the relative size of the HOF will be slow. The bottom line: if you’re unhappy with the current size of the Hall of Fame, you will probably carry that unhappiness with you the rest of your days.

Two Home Runs Kings Reunite; Aaron and Oh Meet in Los Angeles

A few weeks ago around the Hall of Fame voting announcements, I took a Cyberspace visit to the Ted Williams Museum and its Hitters Hall of Fame.

Using what Williams described as his “secret formula” (actually the stat OPS), he identified his twenty greatest hitters of all time. BPP readers can and have debated over Barry Larkin and Bert Blyleven’s credentials. Looking at Williams’ stellar group, there are many fine hitters, and we’ve written of the museum before.

Included in Williams’ original 1995 inductees is Hank Aaron, possibly one of the most underrated of the Cooperstown Hall. The Williams’ Hall has other inductees which it updates annually. In 1999, the museum added Japanese-Taiwanese Yomiuri Giants’ slugger supreme Sadaharu Oh.

In 1974, Aaron and Oh went head-to-head in an unprecedented international home run hitting contest of epic proportions. CBS offered Aaron $50,000 and Oh, 6 million yen ($20,000) plus a silver trophy to the winner.

That year, the New York Mets were in Japan for a post-season good will tour. The Aaron-Oh showdown would be part of a November 2 of pre-game ceremony between the Mets and the Japanese All Stars.

Aaron, then with the Atlanta Braves, didn’t take the event seriously. In an interview, Aaron stated that the Japanese ball parks were so much smaller than the ones he played in stateside that any comparison between his home run prowess and Oh’s was “totally unfounded.” Aaron didn’t bother to bring any of his bats to Japan but instead borrowed Ed Kranepool’s longer, lighter Adirondack.

The contestants chose their own pitchers. Aaron gave the nod to Mets’ coach Joe Pignatano while Oh stuck with right handed Giants’ batting practice pitcher Kiniyasu Mine.

The format had been agreed upon in advance. Each player would be allowed 20 fair balls with their at bats taken in alternating sequences of five. At the end of the first round, Oh led 3-2.

At the beginning of round 2, Oh blasted three more homers to take a 6-2 lead. Later, Aaron laughingly said that he never thought he would hear the day when Mets’ wives would be chanting, “Let’s go, Henry.” By the bottom of the second round, Aaron tied the score 6-6 with four titanic blasts.

Aaron moved ahead in the third round, 9-7. Locals feared that Oh was out of gas. But Aaron, who hadn’t held a bat in six weeks, was running on empty, too. In the final round with the score tied at 9, Aaron had five more swings; he flied out, grounded to short and then lifted the winning shot over the left field fence. Final score: Aaron 10-Oh 9.

Ironically, only a few hours later, the Braves traded Aaron to the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Aaron and Oh challenge began a lifelong friendship. Earlier this month the two, who had a total of 1,632 career homers, were in Los Angeles for the 20th Anniversary Children’s Baseball Fair Luncheon.  Aaron, 77, and Oh, 71 co-founded the organization in 1990. When Frank Robinson, ninth on the all time homer list, arrived a few minutes late, the three men represented 2,209 homers. [Aaron, Oh Are at Head of Power Luncheon, by Mike Di Giovanna, Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2012]

As always, Aaron was gracious. He politely but vaguely answered Barry Bonds questions.

Robinson, however, bluntly said:

In my mind, Hank is the home run king, no question.

Aaron and Oh were generous in their praise of each other.

Oh, said Aaron, “could have held his own in the major leagues.”

About Aaron, Oh said:

A lot of people were concerned about winning the derby. I was just grateful for his presence in Japan, for Hank to be in uniform, to show the Japanese fans and kids how great a person and player he is.

Any player/Any era: Gene Tenace

Editor’s note: Please welcome another “Any player/Any era” from Albert Lang.


What He Did: You mean aside from being born Fury Gene Tenace?

Well, he finished his 15-year career with a .241/.388/.429 line with 201 HRs, playing primarily catcher and first base. He appeared in 846 games at catcher (.245/.396/.437) and 582 at first (.242/.382/.428).

His .388 career OBP is tied for the 33rd best by a right handed batter (min. 5,000 PA) in MLB history. He walked 984 times, the 41st most by a righty. He had six seasons of 100+ walks, the 20th most seasons of 100+ walks in baseball history. (The above from the SABR Baseball List & Record Book, 2007).

All of that and Tenace didn’t become a regular until he was 26 in 1973 (shades of Jorge Posada?). From 1969-1972 Tenace served primarily as Dave Duncan’s back-up (a no-hit, lead-the-staff kind of guy). However, with Duncan batting .163/.200/.302 in August of ‘72, Tenace was given the starting job down the stretch and throughout the play-offs.

While Tenace batted miserably in the ALCS, his one hit drove in the winning run in the deciding game. Then he hit .348/.400/.913 in the World Series, including homers in his first two World Series at bats (the first player to do so). He earned the MVP (and first of four World Series rings). Duncan was embroiled in a contract dispute during the following off-season and subsequently traded.

And that’s how you take over a starting catching job: brute force! Tenace did split time at catcher and first over the next few years, which would serve as his peak. From 1973-1980 (including four seasons in San Diego’s cavernous ballpark), Tenace averaged 147 games with a .241/.391/.434 line and 21 HRs per year. During that time, Tenace accumulated 39.9 WAR (Fangraphs), tied with Bobby Bonds for the 16th most among hitters during that stretch.

When it was all said and done, Tenace’s career looks somewhat similar to Adam Dunn. Dunn has 365 HRs (certainly more than Tenace) but a .243/.374/.503 line (surprisingly a worse OBP than Tenace). If you translate Dunn’s line to the 1975 Oakland Athletics, he would have 347 HRs and a .234/.362/.484 line. Tenace…just about Adam Dunn as a catcher.

In addition, Tenace’s 47.4 career WAR (Fangraphs) is 17th all time for a catcher (and that includes the likes of Brian Downing, Buck Ewing and others (who might not qualify at catcher) ahead of him). Certainly, his contemporaries, Ted Simmons and Johnny Bench, had better careers, but that shouldn’t take away from Tenace, much the same that Alan Trammell shouldn’t have been hurt by playing during the same era as Cal Ripken and Barry Larkin.

Era he might have thrived in: If ever there were a player from an older era that would have thrived in the “modern” game, it’s Tenace. For that reason, I’m putting him in the early part of the 2000s. If you place his numbers on the 2001 Oakland Athletics, his career line would be .270/.424/.475. His 1975 season, translated, would be a masterpiece: .269/.412/.486 with 31 HRs. Indeed, during his prime, he would have posted OBPs over .400 ever year but his translated 1974 season (his OBP on the 2001 A’s would have been a measly .398).

Why: The Oakland Athletics were perennial contenders from 2000-2006. However, they didn’t have a serviceable catcher until Ramon Hernandez blossomed in 2004. Tenace would have made Hernandez expendable (and trade-able) in a meaningful way.

Replacing Hernandez in 2001 (when Hernandez batted just .254/.316/.408) with Tenace would have improved an already lethal line-up. Could you imagine a team sending out: Johnny Damon/Gene Tenace/Jason Giambi/Eric Chavez/Miguel Tejada/Jermaine Dye/Jeremy Giambi/Terrence Long/Frank Menechino? That line-up would have no holes and include two players with .400+ OBPs.

Really, if you think about it, Tenace could have been the face of Moneyball.

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A batting lineup of pitchers

1.) George Uhle: Uhle might have played an everyday position had he not pitched so well, inventing the slider, once walking a batter to strike out Babe Ruth, and winning 200 games lifetime. One of a handful of pitchers with more than 10 offensive WAR for his career, Uhle hit .289 in his career with a .339 on-base percentage and 21 triples. His speed and contact hitting earns him the lead-off spot.

2.) Red Ruffing: Hall of Fame pitcher Ruffing hit at least .300 eight of his 22 seasons and topped out at .364 in 1930. Projecting his numbers that year to a 500 at-bat season, Ruffing would have had 182 hits with 18 homers, 100 RBI and a .984 OPS. Better, Ruffing went 15-8 on the hill in 1930 after consecutive 20-loss seasons.

3.) Wes Ferrell: I’ve said this before here, though it bears repeating. When people knock Rick Ferrell’s 1987 Hall of Fame induction, they sometimes note he wasn’t the best player in his own family. Rick doesn’t even have the best OPS+ despite playing catcher while Wes served primarily as a rotation-anchoring pitcher, winning 20 games six times. Wes bests Rick for OPS+ (100 to 95), home runs (38 to 28) and slugging percentage (.446 to .378) among other offensive categories. Fittingly, he fronts a 1979 SABR book, Great Hitting Pitchers.

4.) Earl Wilson: Wilson’s 35 home runs aren’t tops for pitchers, but his one homer every 21.14 at-bats might be. It trumps Ferrell, who went yard once every 30.9 at-bats (and hit a record 37 homers as a pitcher and one more as a pinch hitter.) Wilson played just 11 seasons, being stuck much of the 1950s in the minors with the Boston Red Sox, who waited until 1959 to integrate. He also mostly played in the 1960s, one of the worst offensive periods in baseball history. Imagine Wilson’s hitting stats for a longer career in a better offensive era.

5.) Don Drysdale: Like a few of the men here, Drysdale’s career hitting stats are non-imposing:  .186 lifetime batting average with an OPS+ of 45 and a 162-game average of 110 strikeouts. He rates a mention for his one sensational offensive year, 1965, when he was the Dodgers’ only .300 hitter and had seven homers, 19 RBI, and an OPS+ of 140. He also went 23-12 on the mound, helping Los Angeles to a World Series crown.

6.) Carlos Zambrano: For his epic 2011 meltdown in Chicago, Big Z hit .318 with a career-high 130 OPS+ in 44 at-bats. He hit better still in 2008, .337 with four home runs, 14 RBI, and a 122 OPS+ in 83 at-bats. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in Miami, given that Zambrano had a lower batting average but better slugging numbers in Wrigley than elsewhere.

7.) C.C. Sabathia: Sabathia might be the hitting king of American League pitchers, batting .269 in interleague play lifetime. His .250 career batting average overall pales in comparison to many other pitchers, even active ones, though like Wilson, I wonder what Sabathia could do with more at-bats.

8.) Bob Gibson: Gibson, like Drysdale, is considered one of the best-hitting pitchers of the 1960s and had better peak offensive value than longevity, batting .303 in 1970 and .206 lifetime. Gibson and Drysdale share another thing in common: Each owned the other man at the plate, with Gibson going 2-20 and Drysdale 1-23, though surprisingly, neither hit the other with a pitch despite their reputations as brushback artists.

9.) Walter Johnson: The Big Train had incredible durability, placing third in baseball history with 5,914 innings pitched, though when his skills went, they went fast. Johnson had his last great year at 37 in 1925 when he went 20-7 for the AL champion Washington Senators and hit .433 with two homers, 20 RBI, and a 162 OPS+ in 97 at-bats. He even smacked a triple, his 41st and final. As a man of surprises, he makes a perfect ninth hitter.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Kevin Brown

Editor’s note: Please welcome the latest from Alex Putterman.

Claim to Fame: Brown pitched for six Major League teams in his 19-year career, and while our lasting memory of the righty might be of him floundering in the Bronx, his pre-Yankee days were filled with high innings counts and low ERAs. By the time Brown retired in 2005, he was 53rd all-time with a 127 ERA+ and 34th all-time in pitching WAR with 64.8 wins above replacement on the mound. He was also a six-time all-star and five times finished among the league’s top six in Cy Young voting.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Despite qualifications that should render him at least a borderline Hall candidate, Brown received only 2.1% of votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America in 2011 and, having fallen below the 5% threshold necessary to remain in consideration, is no longer on the ballot. He cannot be considered by the Veterans Committee until he has been retired for 20 years, and if the voting procedure does not change between now and then, Brown will next be eligible for the 2026 Expansion Era ballot.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Brown finished 35th on BPP’s December list of the 50 best players not in the Hall, with 18 of the 83 voters considering him Cooperstown-worthy. I personally voted him deserving of induction and would happily do it again.

Among non-HOF pitchers, only Tony Mullane and Rick Reuschel were worth more WAR in their careers than Brown was in his, and Brown was much more effective in run prevention than many Hall of Famers, with an impressive ERA+ in a fairly lengthy career. Brown does not deserve mention alongside Martinez, Clemens, Maddux and Johnson on the list of elite pitchers of the ’90s and 2000s, but his numbers match up well with those in the next tier: Glavine, Smoltz, Mussina, and Schilling, none of whom are yet eligible for the Hall but all of whom are expected to garner significantly more support than Brown did.

So why didn’t Brown receive backing from the BBWAA? His aforementioned end-of-career struggles perhaps left a negative taste in voters’ mouths, with many remembering his 6.50 ERA in 2005 more than his 1.89 ERA in 1996.

Brown also lacks the round career totals that have gotten many inferior players into the Hall. He retired well short of the 300 win and 3,000 strikeout milestones, which would have likely assured his place in Cooperstown. His candidacy could also have benefited from a Cy Young award or two (for the record, I think he was robbed in ’96 and ’98) or a defining postseason performance. Without any transcendent achievements on his resume, Kevin Brown was largely forgettable.

Joe Posnanski posed another interesting theory about Brown’s poor showing in Hall of Fame voting in a blog post about his “Hall of Not Famous Enough. Joe wrote:

There was a little bit of outrage in select circles about Brown getting knocked off the ballot after one year. Mostly, though, people didn’t care because nobody really liked Kevin Brown. He actually might be in the Hall of Not Likable Enough.

Well Joe, I’m among those “select circles,” because, as Ty Cobb learned, being likeable is no prerequisite for Hall entry.

So, because of some combination of a poor finish, a lack of memorable moments and accomplishments, and an attitude that endeared him to nobody, Kevin Brown is no longer on the Hall of Fame ballot, while Jack Morris– whom Brown leads substantially in ERA, ERA+, WHIP, SO/BB, HR/9, winning percentage, and WAR– continues to receive moderate support. This is immensely frustrating to me, but there’s nothing to do. Life’s not fair; I’ll have to get used to it.

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 Morris, Jeff BagwellJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiLarry Walker,Manny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete Browning,Phil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark

Richie Ashburn, My Non-wWAR Overview

When my colleague and fellow baseball historian Adam Darowski wrote that Richie Ashburn was a better player than he had thought, I was pleased. Like the BBWAA writers, I have my biases and one is Ashburn. But using the standard that Adam developed for the “Small” Hall of Fame that I favor, Ashburn came up quite sort. Adam set 105 wWAR as the minimum for entry to the Small Hall; Ashburn had 84.8.

Ashburn, if nothing else, was one of the most dependable players of his era. During the ten year period from 1949 through 1958, he played in 98.6 percent of the Phillies’ games. Only seven players had higher percentages over a similar period: Lou Gehrig, Billy Williams, Nellie Fox, Cap Anson, Stan Musial, John Morrill and Ron Santo.

Ashburn must have been a manager’s dream. Phillies’ pilots Eddie Sawyer, Steve O’Neil, Mayo Smith and, for a season with the Mets, Casey Stengel knew they could pencil Ashburn into the lineup and he would deliver.

A superb outfielder who played in the shadows of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider, Ashburn couldn’t hit for power and was considered to have a weak arm (although in the bottom of the ninth of the 1950 single game playoff for the National League pennant against the Brooklyn Dodgers and with the score tied 1-1, he threw out Cal Abrams at home plate.)

As a leadoff hitter, however, Ashburn completely bedeviled pitchers. Choking up on his bat, Ashburn used his shortened stroke to slap the ball through the infield. When he was not delivering a single, he would bunt his way on base or draw a walk, then steal second. Ashburn knew how to work a pitcher. Once he fouled off 14 deliveries from Cincinnati’s Corky Valentine before he finally walked.

Ashburn’s teammate, Johnny Blatnik told this story about his friend’s bat control:

One night in Philadelphia, there was a loud mouthed guy who was getting on one of our players, I can’t remember who it was. Rich told our man ‘Point him out to me.’ Rich went up to bat and hit the guy in the chest about five or six rows up in the stands with a line drive foul ball. That’s a true story.

Few outside of Philadelphia know that when the 1950 decade ended, Ashburn had more hits than Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Mays or Mantle.

After his playing career ended, Ashburn had the wisdom to turn down an offer to go into Nebraska politics as some urged him to do. Instead Ashburn accepted the Phillies invitation to join the broadcast team where he enamored the notoriously tough Philadelphia fans for decades.

When in 1995 the Hall finally inducted Ashburn, he said showing his famous sense of humor:

I’m flattered that so many baseball people think I’m a Hall of Famer. But what’s hard to believe is how one-hundred and fifty plus people have changed their minds about me since I became eligible because I haven’t had a base hit since then.

Ashburn’s Cooperstown plaque reads, in part:


At Ashburn’s 1997 funeral, players and fans showed up in droves and stood in line for hours to pay their final respects to the man whose skills on the field and voice behind the mike was legendary. Some grown men, crying, left their transistor radios beside Ashburn’s casket to pay the ultimate tribute to the man they admired and loved for years.

Some Random Thoughts on a Cold January Day

Editor’s note: Please welcome the latest from Doug Bird.


We’re all sitting here waiting, still, on Prince Fielder to sign. At this point I’m well past caring who he signs with, just sign so we can get on with our usually inaccurate pre season predictions. Of course I’d like to think that once signed, my predictions will fall into line. Yeah, that will happen. Fielder could have a huge impact on the pennant races depending of course on where he eventually signs. That goes without saying. So with that in mind, I thought I would throw out some random thoughts/happenings/news and other stuff for this week’s column.

One of my favorite players retired this week, Orlando Cabrera. I remember him mostly from the occasionally glorious and usually frustrating days of my beloved Montreal Expos. He went on to play for the Boston RedSox with whom he earned a World Series ring, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s,  Minnesota Twins,  Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians and finally the San Francisco Giants.  Apparently he had been offered a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves this offseason but chose instead to retire at age 37. A classy guy indeed.

Another of my favorite players has not received a contract offer as of yet and it seems as though he may have to follow in his former teammate’s footsteps. Vlad Guerrero at 36 hasn’t been able to play in the field these past few seasons due to knees which were ruined on the turf in Montreal.  He was electrifying in the field with a cannon arm which gave base runners pause even though often times the ball could be going anywhere but its intended destination.  Offensively, it seemed that the only pitch he couldn’t hit was a waist high down the middle fastball.

Congrats to Barry Larkin for being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I have my own criteria for the Hall but I certainly don’t begrudge this selection. Larkin was one of the best of his generation and a very classy guy. He joins fellow ex-Reds Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan. What a foursome that would have been.

Yu Darvish had better be all he can be for Texas. I must admit ignorance other than what I have read in the somewhat vague scouting reports. Japanese players for the most part have a difficult time adjusting to the Major Leagues and having any sustained success.  The language and cultural differences would be a distraction for any of us. And with the baseball world united in acclaiming him to be already one of the top pitchers in the majors, the added pressure must be numbing.  I wish him luck.

The Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Philadelphia Phillies seem to be getting a bit long in the tooth. Don’t be deceived though. Those old guys are still very dangerous and still smarting from last year’s lack of a World Series title. Those guys still know how to win.  I’m going to miss Jorge Posada and try and revel any opportunity I get to see Derek Jeter. Jason Varitek has likely seen his last days in Boston and Carl Crawford needs to adjust of life in the pressure cooker.  Watching Roy Halladay pitch reminds me of the great Greg Maddux. The surgical precision with which he goes about his job is always a marvel to watch.  I’m always surprised when he gives up anything. I’m glad Jimmy Rollins stayed in Philadelphia. It just makes my Jimmy Rollins baseball card still relevant.

The Boston RedSox have been awfully quiet this offseason while the New York Yankees finally made a big splash. Rumors have it that the Yankees are trying to get rid of A.J. Burnett. Not so surprisingly, there are no takers. Maybe the Chicago Cubs could trade him for Alfonso Soriano? Soriano could DH and not hit and Burnett could finally get his ERA up past 6.00. Then the Cubs could trade him to Boston for GM Epstein. Just saying.

I can’t get used to the new name for the Marlins. I still like their old uniforms. Of course no one liked their old stadium and they now get to play in a ballpark instead of a football cavern. I can’t get used to Jeffrey Loria spending money but I’m confident that once the Miami Marlins win the World Series, he’ll follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and sell anyone with talent to the highest bidder.

Oh yeah-we’re still stuck with Bud Selig. In 2014, every team will make the playoffs.  Can’t wait.

Any player/Any era: Doug Glanville

What he did: I first knew Doug Glanville as a name from my baseball card collection and the sports page when I was growing up in the 1990s. This is how it often goes, and in the years since I started writing about baseball regularly, it’s always been a funny feeling to meet a player whose card I might have had. Glanville’s gone on to other things since his nine-year career ended, and I know him as much now for his baseball writing. I’ve read some of his work for ESPN, and his 2010 book, The Game from Where I Stand is on my list of things to read. We started corresponding on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, which spurred me to give his stats another look, and I learned something else: Glanville’s another player who would’ve benefited greatly in a different era.

Glanville hit .277 for his career with an OPS+ of 78, a light-hitting centerfielder who didn’t much walk or hit for power. For the most part, he excelled in two areas, base-stealing and defense, with him swiping 168 bags at an 82 percent success rate and accumulating 5.9 lifetime defensive WAR. Glanville played at the height of the Steroid Era, 1996 to 2004, and his strongest assets were undervalued. In a different era, he might not have had a year like 1999 where he took advantage of historically good conditions for hitters and batted .325 with 204 hits to earn his largest contract. But he might have had a longer career.

Era he might have thrived in: We’re going with the 1980s St. Louis Cardinals, a perennial contender that favored defense and base stealing. Glanville would have fit in well with the likes of Ozzie Smith, Vince Coleman, and Willie McGee.

Why: I considered placing Glanville in the 1930s, of course suspending disbelief about him being unable play in the majors as an African American before 1947. For the 1930 Phillies, the Baseball-Reference.com stat converter has Glanville hitting .346 with an .884 OPS and a not-bad-for-then 50 walks. Consider that Chuck Klein hit .386 in 1930 and walked just 54 times. But I wanted an era where Glanville would maximize his base stealing, and the 1930s, anytime between 1920 and 1960 really, wasn’t it. Stolen base totals were generally low then, and rare kings like George Case in the 1940s did it without much help. Glanville told me his prowess was a combination of talent and coaching, with him becoming a lot more efficient in the minors, and this earns him the trip to Stolen Base U, which was St. Louis in the ’80s.

The Cardinals don’t have the record for stolen bases in a season, which goes to the 1976 Oakland Athletics who stole an ungodly 341 bases and had eight players with at least 20 steals. But where those A’s were a free-running aberration, the Cardinals more or less dominated the base paths for a decade, averaging 204.5 steals a year for the ’80s. It fit with manager Whitey Herzog’s “Whiteyball” strategy which favored pitching, speed, and defense, and Glanville had two of those three assets in abundance. The Baseball-Reference.com stat converter has issues projecting stolen base totals, but one of my readers suggested that with a license to run freely, Glanville might’ve had 80 or 90 steals in a season and supplanted Coleman, the least-talented Cardinals outfielder.

St. Louis won the World Series in 1982 with a 200 stolen base team and very nearly won it in 1985 and 1987 with teams that stole 314 and 248 bases, respectively. Perhaps Glanville’s presence would have pushed St. Louis to greater heights.

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

Similar to Doug Glanville: Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseRickey HendersonVada Pinson

Others in this series: Al SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News RockiesBarry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob WatsonBobby VeachCarl MaysCesar CedenoCharles Victory FaustChris von der AheDenny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleEddie LopatElmer FlickFrank HowardGavvy Cravath, George W. Bush (as commissioner)George 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 GuerreroPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRoberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam ThompsonSandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays

An open letter to the Hall of Fame: Consider honoring Robert Creamer this summer

To whom it may concern:

My name is Graham Womack, and I am founder and editor of Baseball: Past and Present. I had the pleasure recently to conduct an interview with founding Sports Illustrated writer and celebrated baseball author Robert Creamer for my site. I couldn’t have asked for a better interview, and it’s had a phenomenal reception.

I’m writing with an idea.

Part of the reason the Creamer interview went as well as it did was that he was wonderfully introspective in his answers, taking more than two weeks to reply to my 10 questions and offering almost 5,000 words worth of answers. He spoke of many things, such as going to his first game in 1931, the changes he’s seen over the years, and who he considered the greatest player that he covered (“Willie Mays. Period.”) I asked Creamer about his favorite baseball memories and he told me, among other things:

Seeing Babe Ruth hit home runs; I saw Babe play at least one game in 1932, 1933 and 1934, his last three seasons with the Yankees, and each time I saw him he hit a home run (a couple of times it was a doubleheader and he hit a homer in one of the games, but he hit one.) In short I have the thrill of remembering what a Ruthian homer looked like up close – simply gorgeous. That beautiful swing and Ruth’s big face looking up watching it go as he starts to run. And the ball, already enormously high in the air as it floated past the infield. I mean, I saw Babe Ruth hit home runs.

I can’t even begin to describe how cool it was to get to do this interview.

As I mentioned, the interview got an overwhelmingly positive response from readers. It’s been linked to on a few major baseball sites. Major League Baseball official historian John Thorn tweeted, “Just the best thing I can recall reading.” And even if Creamer hadn’t given such an outstanding interview, I sense there still would have been an outpouring of support for him. The man seems universally loved by baseball fans, rightfully so. At 89, he’s a treasure, and I hope he lives and writes many more years.

Which gets me to my idea.

Robert Creamer will turn 90 on July 14 of this year. The annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will take place about a week later. What better present to offer Creamer (and baseball) than an award? As a writer,  Creamer can’t be enshrined in Cooperstown, and he’s not even currently eligible for the “Scribes and Mikemen” exhibit, since it only honors newspaper reporters and broadcasters. I have something in mind to remedy this.

I suggest the creation of the Robert W. Creamer Award, to be presented annually to any non-newspaper writer who’s fostered greater love or appreciation of baseball. I’ll even offer an inaugural class: Roger Angell, Roger Kahn, Bill James, Lawrence Ritter, and Creamer. It’s a travesty none of these men have been honored simply because they didn’t write for a newspaper (frankly, keeping the award tied to one seems arcane in the 21st century.) I could nominate Creamer for the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, but that goes out only once every three years and seems insufficient to honor the great backlog of writers. I suggest the Creamer Award winners be featured in the press exhibit, next to the J.G. Taylor Spink Award winners for newspapermen and the Ford C. Frick Award winners for broadcasters.

I am admittedly a geek for this kind of thing. I went through college thinking I would be a sportswriter, and I’ve read the work of a fair number of men in the writers exhibit. I’ll probably take a look at it the next time I go to Cooperstown, though I wouldn’t subject anyone else to it. But I’d want to tell my son or daughter, if I had one, about Creamer, the man who helped found the greatest sports magazine ever, wrote two of the finest baseball books around, and selflessly showed kindness to me, some random, young blogger. I imagine he’s quietly been helping people for decades.

Creamer deserves more than I can possibly give. But it’d be nice to see the Hall of Fame join me in saying thank you.

Best wishes,

Graham Womack