Any player/Any era: Kenny Lofton

What he did: Kenny Lofton finished his career with 1,528 runs, the 33rd most by a lefty in MLB History. In 2000, his run scoring was at its zenith as he scored a run in 18 consecutive games, tied for the seventh longest streak since 1893.

While a player needs someone to knock him in to score, the player does have to get on base. Lofton’s career .372 OBP is ahead of Roberto Alomar, Bobby Grich, Barry Larkin, Rafael Palmeiro, George Brett, and a whole host of other players.

Of course, once Lofton got on base, he knew what to do. He stole 622 bases, the 15th most in MLB history and almost halfway to Rickey Henderson. He also was efficient, posting a 79.5% success rate, just behind Ozzie Smith and in the top 30 in MLB history. As a rookie, Lofton stole 66 bases, the fifth most prolific rookie season in MLB history.

Lofton played for 11 teams, although the Indians were the only club he played for more than one season with. He hit a HR for every team except the Houston Astros. Only seven players in MLB history have hit HRs for nine different teams. Todd Zeile leads the way, hitting HRs it for 11 teams, while Rickey Henderson (and others) did it for nine squads.

In 2007, his final season, a 40-year-old Lofton batted .296/.367/.414 with 23 steals in 30 chances. In fact, his age 37-40 seasons produced a .303/.367/.409 line with 84 SBs and 18 CS.

When his Hall of Fame candidacy comes up, there will be a heated debate over whether he belongs. While it might not be a no-brainer, the Hall will be a better place with players like Lofton in it.

In addition to the steals of home and other acts of brilliance, I’ll remember that Lofton was the first batter in Oriole Park at Camden Yards history. He led off with a short fly to right. Rick Sutcliffe pitched a complete game shut-out for the win. Same Horn and Leo Gomez scored for the Orioles with Chris Hoiles and Billy Ripken knocking them in. Charles Nagy went eight strong for the Indians.

Era he would have thrived in: It’s hard to imagine Lofton not thriving in any particular era. That said, starting Lofton’s career more recently would have helped him get the recognition he deserves. Lofton wasn’t just another Otis Nixon or Juan Pierre, he would be the closest we have in the modern game to Tim Raines. For reasons you’ll see, Lofton probably belongs on the Boston Red Sox of this era.

Why: With Lofton’s ability to get on base and steal efficiently, he would fit perfectly into the “modern” game of baseball. Lofton would fit nowhere better than on the Boston Red Sox. If you normalize Lofton’s numbers to the 2008 Red Sox, you get a .312/.386/.442 line with 692 steals.

Those numbers would compare incredibly favorably to Raines and would create this modern Tim Raines dynamic. As Raines continues to fight or writers continue to fight for for inclusion in the Hall of Fame, Lofton would be the perfect reminder of how great Raines was.

Beginning in 2002, it wouldn’t be that difficult to get Lofton significant at bats, with him moving Trot Nixon to the bench predominantly, but also Coco Crisp, Gabe Kapler and others. It would reunite Lofton with Manny Ramirez and let Lofton bat ahead of Manny, Ortiz, Nomar, etc. In short, he’d score a bazillion runs and be appreciated for all his hustle and brilliance.

Lessons from my mom

Mothers Day is the most important day of the year.  Sure we love our fathers but it’s mom who rules the roost and it’s mom who we all have to do right by.  Everyone knows this and everyone does their very best to make certain that mom is happy. None of us want to make our mother cry or hear that she is disappointed.  None of us want to feel her wrath or see her tears. You just don’t mess with them.

With that in mind, here are two players in 2012 thus far who have made their mom unhappy, angry or happy as in that’s my boy and I’m proud of him.

Josh Hamilton likely caused his mother some consternation while constantly running afoul of the law and running with some unsavory types a few years ago. The story of his lost three years is well-known. There was no way this kid could miss being one of the elite in baseball if only he could straighten up his act and find someone who could set him once again on the straight and narrow.Tampa Bay in those days, were the laughing stock of baseball and could ill afford to waste a first round pick. Hamilton was going to be their savior and the first in a long line of great players who would lift the franchise not only to respectability, but to success.  Those hopes seemed dashed as Hamilton time after time became involved in criminal activities and seemed to be easily influenced by the wrong type of people. Hamilton turned things around in a big way.

Now, I don’t know if his mom or a motherly figure in his life helped turn him around. I know little of his personal life or his upbringing and I do know that even kids raised with dignity and respect can go bad. I do know that if he has a mom, she would have been secretly crying in her pillow at night and hoping against hope that Hamilton would one day pull himself together. Not for any baseball rewards, but simply for his own good.

We all know people, ordinary people like you and me, who have wasted any talent they might have had for whatever reason and fell into the depths of crime and/or addiction. Those of us who have kept our nose to the grindstone have usually had a mom who we hoped never to embarrass no matter if we were only the lowest level office worker or the most famous person on the planet. She always seemed proud of us as long as we were productive members of society and respected others and became responsible adults.

It was always important to my mom that if I made a commitment, I honored that commitment no matter how things were going at any particular time. You signed on and had to see it through, good times and bad.  That was part of being an adult.

Moms make the world go round. I lost mine in 1973 but I still hear her voice when I do something stupid, which, sadly, is a full time job for her. Love you mom– always.

Willie Mays turns 81

On May 6, Willie Mays celebrated his 81st birthday. During those 1950s years the baseball world couldn’t resolve the debate about who was New York’s best center fielder, Mickey, Willie or the Duke. As sports writer Red Smith said:

“Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. You could get a fat lip in any saloon by starting an argument as to which was best. One point was beyond argument, though. Willie was by all odds the most exciting.”

At the time, I lived in Los Angeles and didn’t qualify to have an opinion. In those days, major league baseball hadn’t yet arrived in California so my limited knowledge was based on stories I read in the great old Sports Magazine or in late newspaper box scores. I did, however, see May’s 1954 legendary World Series catch on a tiny black and white television screen. In the Series first game, Cleveland Indians’ Vic Wertz launched a tremendous shot to deep center field, Mays, looking over his shoulder, caught the ball and fired it back into the infield. (See it here.)

When the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, Mays began the second phase of his outstanding career. After Mays retired, the Giants erected a statue of him outside AT & T Park, the address of which is 24 Willie Mays Plaza.

Not until 1972 did I watch Mays in person. Mays had agreed to return to New York as a Mets at owner Joan Payson’s behest. Payson had grown up rooting for the New York Giants; Mays was her favorite player. The 41-year-old Mays was washed up but he agreed to go to New York lured by the prospect that Mets had at least an outside chance of winning the World Series, an achievement that had eluded him since 1954

For parts of two seasons, Mays played like the roster liability he was. His hitting was negligible, his fielding erratic and his speed gone. Nevertheless, on September 25, 1973 at Shea Stadium the Mets held “Willie Mays Night.” Traffic, worse than for any visiting Pope, president or foreign head of state, was backed up from Queens to Manhattan. The Mets flew in Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial to be part of the celebration during which he was given three cars, plane tickets, a snowmobile and a mink coat for his wife.

Mays’ birthday celebration was more subdued. In the bottom of the second inning, Giants’ fans stood to sing “Happy Birthday” to Mays. And from the KNBR radio booth, announcers Jon Miller and Dave Fleming presented Mays with a cake.

For the next few innings, Miller and Fleming exchanged Mays’ vignettes. Time and again the announcers returned to Milwaukee where on April 30, 1961 Mays put on one of baseball’s greatest performances. That Sunday afternoon, Mays hit four home runs, two off Lew Burdette and one each off Don McMahon and Seth Morehead, and drove in eight runners. One of Mays’ titanic homers went so far into the stands that as play-by-play man Russ Hodges made the call, he noted that Henry Aaron—playing out of position in center field—never made a move for the ball as it soared above his head.

When the game ended, a 14-4 Giants rout, Mays was in the on deck circle. By that time, County Stadium fans hoped to see Mays get a shot at his fifth homer. When Jim Davenport grounded out, he got a lusty round of booing from the disappointed crowd.

Today, in addition to his responsibilities as an assistant to the Giants’ president, Mays also serves on the advisory board of the Baseball Assistance Team, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to helping former major League, minor League, and Negro league players through financial and medical difficulties.

Six decades after the who-is-better Mays, Mantle or Snider argument began, most historians give Mays the edge.

An interesting footnote: the Giants’ winning pitcher was Billy Loes who tossed a complete game. Most have forgotten (I know I did) that Loes closed out his career with the Giants where he pitched respectably during 1961 and 1962 ( 63 games; 9-7, 4.50 ERA).

Any Player/Any Era: Larry Walker

What he did: Clearly, if Graham can do a Does he belong in the Hall column on Walker, he had a long and storied career. I also added a blurb on Walker for Graham’s 50 Best Players not in the Hall:

Larry Walker is one of the greatest left-handed hitters in the history of baseball. Walker is tied for the 38th best average by a left-handed batter at .313. He has the 46th highest OBP in MLB history and the 15th best slugging percentage all-time at .565…Sure it was helpful to Walker to have played his home games at Coors Field during his relative prime, but kudos to him for taking full advantage.

Going beyond that, Walker finished with a higher OBP than Joe DiMaggio, Cap Anson and many others. When you combine his power with his ability to get on base, you generate the 17th highest OPS in MLB history, a number Alex Rodriguez, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and others can only look up at. Adjusting his OPS for the era yields a 141 OPS+, tied for 69th all time and ahead of many baseball greats.

During his career, four times he would bat .300 with 30 HRs and 100 RBIs — that is tied for the 24th most seasons of all time. Walker is also one of just 24 players to bat over .300 and hit over 300 HRs in his career. Of all the left-handed batters in all the world that ever played baseball, Walker recorded the 16th and 17th highest slugging percentages in a season. The only immortals he trails: Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams. Those are the only lefties in baseball history to put up better slugging years.

Finally, he is tied with Carlton Fisk for 96th in wins above replacement (bWAR) — ahead of the likes of Eddie Murray, Pee Wee Reese, Craig Biggio, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Gary Sheffield and Mark McGwire.

While it is hard to parse out the Coors effect and how that improved his numbers (and you’ll see my attempt a bit below), from ages 22 – 27, Walker played for Montreal and would accumulate a pretty decent line: .281/.357/.483.

Quite simply, Walker had one of the most devastating bats from the left-side in MLB history.

And his parents are Larry and Mary and his siblings are Gary, Cary and Barry. Something tells me his family liked to have fun!

Era he would thrive in: For a variety of somewhat selfish reasons, I’m putting Walker on the late 1930s St. Louis Cardinals. While he might not have “thrived” in the ‘30s/’40s (as his power and speed bulk numbers would suffer somewhat), they won’t be that much worse and we can ignore steroids, Coors and whatever the heck baseball did to create an environment conducive to hitting during Walker’s era. In short, his numbers won’t look that much different and we can superficially get at how Walker would do in a bygone time when everything was great.

Why: If you normalize Walker’s career to the 1936 St. Louis Cardinals, you’d end up with a .301/.386/.545 line with 354 HRs and 218 SBs. Placing Walker’s numbers in the context of a different era would make him a near no-doubt Hall of Famer. For example, just look at how his career would have stacked up against his “teammate” Johnny Mize.

Mize: .312/.397/.562 with 359 HRs and 28 SBs

Walker in the 30s: .301/.386/.545 with 354 HRs and 218 SBs

Walker in reality: .313/.400/.565 with 383 HRs and 230 SBs.

Mize on the ’95 Rockies: .352/.440/.630 with 394 HRs and 28 SBs

In addition, Walker would be another in the long line of storied World Champions on the Cardinals and help a team that frequently just missed the post-season reach the promise land. In ’36, the club finished second and got horrible production from Terry Moore. In ’39, the club again finished second with not overly great production from Moore. It was the same story in ’41.

In 1942, Mize would leave the club, but Stan Musial would start his career. Walker could easily slide to first base and buoy a team that beat the Yankees in the World Series. The following year, Walker could slide back to the outfield to let Ray Sanders get at bats at first and replace Harry Walker and Danny Litwhiler in the outfield.

Any player/Any era: Matt Nokes

What he did: Playing for the 1987 Detroit Tigers, Matt Nokes batted .289, hit 32 home runs and made the All-Star team en route to finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. His career lasted through the 1995 season, but he would never again enjoy the kind of productivity he experienced as a rookie. He finished his career with a slash line of .254/.308/.441 and 136 HR in just under 3000 plate appearances. The 3.1 WAR he earned in 1987 were nearly 40 percent of his career total.

Era he would thrive in: When reading “Any Player/Any Era” postings on this website, I often think, maybe this player was particularly well suited to his era; transporting him to another time and place might only harm his legacy. Nokes is one such player; perhaps 1987 and Detroit were the perfect time and place.

Why: Nokes was just about an average ball player. More than a decade and a half after his retirement, it’s easy to look back and come away with the impression that Nokes’ rookie season was a fluke. But another way of viewing it is that Nokes’ uncharacteristic first-year productivity might have given him opportunities that would not have come his way otherwise. If he had played in another time and place and made less of a splash as a rookie, he most likely would have had a shorter, less noteworthy career.

The Rookie of the Year award recognizes the accomplishments of first-year players. It is not intended to predict future success. With the benefit of hindsight, a look at the careers of the American Leaguers who received ROY votes in 1987 is something of a Sesame Street experience (One of these things is not like the others). Mark McGwire (63.1 career WAR) won the award, followed by Kevin Seitzer (26.0), Nokes (8.1), Mike Greenwell (23.5) and Devon White (41.3).

Nokes was the only one of these five players whose career did not live up to the promise of his rookie season. It’s not that 1987 was Nokes’ only productive year; 1988 and 1991 were pretty good, too. But in the end Nokes’ flat years outnumbered his good ones.

At least three factors combined to make the 1987 Tigers uniquely suited to Nokes’ skillset.

First is the manager, Sparky Anderson. Catcher is a difficult position for a rookie. In addition to the typical worries about his bat and his glove, a catcher has the responsibility of shepherding the team’s pitching staff. A rookie catcher in the major leagues easily can find himself overwhelmed. Understandably, most managers will give a young catcher a year or two of part-time service before turning him loose as the team’s everyday starter.

Anderson struck a delicate balance between overplaying his rookie catcher and holding him back. He took advantage of the opportunities that came with having a pair of backstops who swung from opposite sides of the plate, Nokes from the left side and Mike Heath from the right. Anderson knew he needed to ease Nokes into the starting role, but Detroit was trying to win the division title, so he also wanted to keep his rookie’s productive bat in the lineup, especially against right-handed pitching. Nokes started 94 games at catcher and another 22 at DH and in the outfield. Heath started most games that the Tigers faced left-handers.

I can easily imagine another manager starting Nokes at catcher in 130 or more games, pushing the rookie to the point of exhaustion.

Second among the factors making the 1987 Tigers the perfect landing place for Nokes was Detroit’s veteran pitching staff. Experienced pitchers require less guidance from their catcher, and Detroit had three such veteran starters: staff ace Jack Morris, in his ninth year as a regular in the rotation; Dan Petry, another ninth-year starter who could well be thought of as co-ace with Morris; and 15-year starter Frank Tanana. Detroit’s other starters at the beginning of the 1987 season were Walt Terrell, in his fifth year as a starter, and rookie Jeff Robinson. The starting rotation grew even more experienced in mid-August when Doyle Alexander arrived from Atlanta in the now-famous trade for John Smoltz. Interestingly, while Nokes likely benefited from being paired with so many experienced pitchers, Anderson had no obvious aversion to using an all-rookie battery; Nokes was not routinely rested on days when Robinson started.

The third and most important component of the perfect storm of Matt Nokes’ rookie season was an interesting accident of history. Nokes arrived in the big leagues at just the right time. In 1987 there was a mysterious increase in home run productivity. Irrespective of why so many home runs were hit that year– the “juiced” ball is a prominent theory–Nokes’ rookie season was one unusually suited to the long ball. Both leagues saw HR numbers that spiked by more than 25 percent compared to the previous five years and the following five years.

League Year(s) HR/year PA/year HR/PA


























Notably, the one eye-catching number on Nokes’ resume is 32, the number of home runs he hit in his rookie season. Nokes was a left-handed pull hitter playing in Tiger Stadium with its storied short porch in right field. It was the perfect recipe for Nokes to make a lasting first impression with his bat. If Nokes had broken in a year earlier or later, his rookie home run total would have been considerably lower.

Playing for the Yankees in 1991, Nokes had the second-highest home run total of his career, 24, or about the number he might have hit in 1987 if it had been a normal year for home runs. However, by this stage of his career, good numbers were the exception, not the rule.

By 1992, the 28 year-old Nokes was a replacement level player, yet he continued to receive opportunities to play. I can’t help but think that as Nokes’ career progressed, his 1987 performance was a compelling factor in his ability to continue to earn starts behind the plate. After all, it’s hard to bench a player who has shown the potential to hit 30 home runs.

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

Others in this series: Al Kaline, Al RosenAl SimmonsAlbert Pujols, Artie WilsonBabe RuthBad News RockiesBarry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob WatsonBobby VeachCarl MaysCesar CedenoCharles Victory FaustChris von der AheDenny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleDoug Glanville, Ed WalshEddie LopatElmer FlickEric Davis, Frank HowardFritz MaiselGary CarterGavvy CravathGene TenaceGeorge W. Bush (as commissioner)George CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jack MorrisJackie Robinson, Jim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh GibsonJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Mark FidrychMatty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertOllie CarnegiePaul DerringerPedro GuerreroPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey HendersonRoberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam ThompsonSandy Koufax Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe JacksonSpud ChandlerStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTony PhillipsTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays

What really happened to “Big Ed” Delahanty the night he died?

“Big Ed” Delahanty was the most successful of five siblings who played in the majors during the 1890s and into the early 20th Century. None of Delahanty’s brothers, Frank, Joe, Jim and Tom could match Ed’s prowess. But during the Deadball Era, no one else could either. From 1894 to 1896 Delahanty compiled astonishing batting marks, averaging a cumulative .402 and winning two batting titles during the span. In 1899, Delahanty hit four doubles in the same game and also collected hits in 10 consecutive at bats.

Delahanty, who collected three votes for left field in the BPP All Time Dream Project, toiled for the Philadelphia Quakers, Cleveland Infants, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Senators. While the memory of Delahanty’s batting feats have understandably faded, to this day fans associate “Big Ed” with his mysterious death.

Rumors abound. In 1903 while the Senators were traveling between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Delahanty died after being kicked of a train by the conductor for drunken and disorderly behavior. Was Delahanty’s death a suicide, an accident or murder? Delahanty had, according to some of his teammates, rambled incoherently about death in his last days. There were also reports of a stranger possibly bent on robbery who followed Delahanty as he walked across the International Bridge.

The Delahanty enigma is the first case analyzed in the new book, Mysteries from Baseball’s Past: Investigations of Nine Unsettled Questions edited by Angelo Louisa and David Cicotello.

In the days leading up to his death, Delahanty was tortured by heavy drinking, significant gambling debts, marital woes, contractual conflicts and, even though he had won the National League batting championship the previous year, declining baseball skills.

Beginning from the moment the search team discovered Delahanty’s “bloated and decomposed” corpse, contributor Jerrold Casway recreates in painstaking detail the tragic circumstances surrounding the ”King of Swatsville’s” untimely death. The author considers various scenarios about which there have been decades of speculation before coming to his well-researched (police reports, sworn testimony and numerous newspaper accounts) and indisputable conclusion that Del’s demise was a tragic accident.

Other unraveled mysteries include Chick Stahl’s suicide, the strange death of Harry Pulliam, the non-game that featured Wilbur Cooper and Pete Alexander, Eddie Cicotte and his “shine” ball (or not?), the O’Connell-Dolan scandal (or hoax?), the Cobb –Speaker hoax, Josh Gibson versus Satch and the Dodgers move to Los Angeles: was Walter O’Malley the victim, a bum or something else?

In 2007, I reviewed another outstanding book by the editors, Forbes Field: Essays and Memories of the Pirates Historic Ball Park, 1909-1971. Read my review here.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Omar Vizquel

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


Claim to fame: Today marks Omar Vizquel’s 45th birthday, and when better to discuss the Hall of Fame credentials of the second oldest player in Major League Baseball?

Vizquel has certainly been around awhile. A Mariners rookie in 1989, the shortstop is now a Blue Jay, having ventured north of the border in 2012 to join his fourth team in five years and sixth overall in his 24-year Major League career. During the near-quarter century at baseball’s highest level, Vizquel has collected 2,842 hits, 451 doubles, and 401 stolen bases, all while hitting for a respectable .272 batting average (all stats as of 4/20). Generally a singles hitter, an anemic .353 slugging percentage bogs down his career .690 OPS and 82 OPS+.

But it was Vizquel’s glove that made him one of the game’s most exciting players during his prime. The Venezuelan’s 11 gold gloves are second only to Ozzie Smith all-time among shortstops, and he’s fifth among shortstops in Total Zone Runs Above Average according to Vizquel’s 13.3 career dWAR (again per baseball-reference) is tied for 33rd at any position and tied for ninth among shortstops. Had he retired after the 2009 season, before a recent slide in defensive production, he would stand tied for 25th overall in dWAR and seventh among shortstops. He’s also the all-time leader in fielding percentage at shortstop and holds the MLB record for most double plays turned at the position.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Once Vizquel retires, which should be soon given his age and diminished skill set, he will wait five years before appearing on the BBWAA ballot for the first of what could potentially be many times.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Any conversation about the Hall of Fame worthiness of a slick-fielding, average-hitting shortstop inevitably comes back to Ozzie Smith, the defensive maestro enshrined in Cooperstown in 2002 despite relatively meek offensive numbers.

But Vizquel falls short of Smith in all facets of the game. While Vizquel’s batting statistics looks superior at first glance, adjustment for era (Vizquel’s prime aligned with the most favorable offensive environment in baseball history) diminishes his numbers and gives Smith a slight advantage in OPS+, 87 to 82. Ozzie’s value was further enhanced by the dearth of quality shortstops during his career, especially relative to the middle-infield boom of the 1990s, when Vizquel competed with Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Alex Rodriguez among others. Because of these changes in the game and at the shortstop position, a shortstop with a .280 batting average and .715 OPS was worth more in 1985 than in 1997, a phenomenon perhaps best illustrated by the difference in All-Star appearances between Smith and Vizquel, Smith having been selected to the Mid-Summer Classic 15 times and Vizquel only thrice.

And while Vizquel was certainly terrific with the glove, he was by no measure on Smith’s level, trailing The Wizard in Gold Gloves (if you view that as a valid measure of defensive ability) as well as dWAR and Ultimate Zone Rating (if you don’t). Baseball-reference gives Smith 8.3 more defensive wins above replacement over the course of his career, a reflection of his 239-130 advantage in Total Zone Runs Above Average.

Just for good measure, Smith was a better base-runner than Vizquel as well, stealing 179 more bases while being caught 17 fewer times. It’s safe to say that at the plate, on the bases, and in the field, Omar Vizquel was no Ozzie Smith.

But is Vizquel a Hall of Famer despite his inferiority to the player with whom he is most often compared? While Phil Rizzuto, Rabbit Maranville, and Luis Aparicio have reached Cooperstown with similar profiles – good shortstop defense but not much production at the plate – Vizquel would, if inducted, tie Maranville and Aparicio for lowest OPS+ in the Hall. If being better than (or equal to) the worst enshrined players were a legitimate argument for a player’s Hall of Fame credentials, we’d be debating the merits of Chuck Knoblauch, Jason Kendall, and Eric Chavez. Producing like Ozzie Smith would have earned Vizquel Hall of Fame consideration. Producing like Rabbit Maranville, however, should not.

If Vizquel manages another 158 hits we’ll face quite the dilemma: a player with 3,000 hits, otherwise unqualified player for the Hall. Should he reach that milestone he’ll almost surely assume a place in Cooperstown, but he still won’t deserve it.

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

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie ReynoldsAndy PettitteBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCraig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon MattinglyDon Newcombe,Dwight EvansGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff BagwellJeff KentJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJohnny MurphyJose CansecoJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry WalkerManny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete BrowningPhil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSammy Sosa, Sean FormanSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark

Guest post from Mike Denton: Memories of the old Pacific Coast League

Editor’s note: Please welcome Mike Denton to BPP. Mike donated $50 for 826 Valencia through the BPP All-Time Dream Project and was entitled to have me write 1,000 words on a subject of his choice. Mike elected to write something himself about his memories from going to Pacific Coast League games for the Sacramento Solons in the 1950s. I can’t guarantee I’ll always publish unsolicited guest posts, but I liked Mike’s piece enough to share it here. It helps that we’re also both from Sacramento. I did my high school senior project a decade ago on the Solons and may share it at some point here.


I grew up in Sacramento, loving baseball as far back as my memory goes.  As a kid, I was out playing every afternoon and evening with my neighborhood friends until the call came for dinner.  If it was still light after that, we’d go out for more until one could see no longer.  Weekends were simply nonstop baseball until we’d drop. Life was simple and good.

When I was around 10 or so, my dad took me to my first professional game at old Edmonds’ Field to see the hometown Sacramento Solons.  It was a rickety old stadium with wooden benches which, if you weren’t careful in your movements, would leave splinters in your behind.  It didn’t matter, though, because seeing that immense green field before me (and not having any major league fields in existence anywhere on the West Coast with which to compare it), seemed to me to be an absolute gem of a place. I was totally hooked at that point and immediately became a fan. It didn’t matter that the team was notoriously bad and immersed deep in the second division year-after-year. What mattered was that I had a team to follow, a radio station to catch the games on (KFBK) as called by announcer  Tony Koester, and a cast of ever-changing players who became my heroes several years before the Giants moved to San Francisco, the Solons left town, and Willie Mays and company became the object of my affection.

I eagerly attended every game my dad would take me to and listened to all the rest.  I followed their exploits in the Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento Union and kept scrapbooks with stories, photos, and box scores. I developed particular attachments to players like Nippy Jones and Al Heist who made it to, if ever so briefly, the majors.  Other favorites were Richie Myers, Tommy Glaviano, Joe Stanka, Joe Brovia, Cuno Barragan (son-in-law of one of my grammar school teachers), and Bud Watkins. The highlight of any weekend was a Sunday twinight doubleheader. What could possibly be better than two games for the price of one on a warm Sacramento evening? Then, in late summer and just before heading back to school, we’d go out to the State Fair and, if the Solons were on the road, we would see Tony Koester in a small booth doing re-creations of their games using a teletype and props to simulate the crack of the bat and crowd noise. Quite an art form, especially when interference would delay transmission and impromptu creativity became a necessity to keep the broadcast running smoothly as if nothing had happened.

The Solons and all the other remaining Pacific Coast League (PCL) teams in California left the state either at the time of or shortly after the arrival of the Giants and Dodgers. I quickly embraced the Giants and have become a lifelong fan and season ticket holder.  I never forgot my “roots,” however, and hearing of the existence of the Pacific Coast League Historical Society some years back, decided to investigate.  At the time, the organization was holding one of the their two yearly reunions of former players at the Oakland Museum. Since I live in San Leandro, it was an easy to trip to check it out. I showed up at my first such event wearing a Solons’ jersey (circa 1942) produced by Ebbets’ Field Flannels which my significant other had given to me on the occasion of my 47th birthday (hence #47 on the back). Although I was now well past that age at the time of this get-together, it seemed a fitting bit of apparel to wear that day. Little did I expect  how appropriate it would be.

Milling about a room containing display cases full of PCL memorabilia, I suddenly heard a booming voice from across the room bellow out “Solons!”  I looked up and saw a tall, white-haired, barrel-chested man moving quickly in my direction. As he neared me and I caught sight of his name-tag, I  did a double-take when I realized it was the aforementioned Bud Watkins. Here, in the flesh, was a man I had watched pitch for the Solons when I was just a kid.  I have to say that I was just like a kid again at that point; it might as well have been a major league Hall of Famer I was meeting.  We chatted for some time and I told him about watching him pitch at old and long-gone Edmonds’ Field.  Soon, because this was but a twice-a-year event for these old players, it was time for him to circulate amongst the rest of them to share fond remembrances with those who were there and to, in a kind of yearly ritual, remember those who no longer could be.

That was not to be my one and only encounter with Bud.  Each year thereafter, we would chat at the reunion and, on several occasions, I would sit with him during the luncheon portion of the day.  We even started exchanging Christmas cards.  As my 60th birthday approached, and unbeknownst to me, my significant other called him at his home in Stockton and told him that we would be in Sacramento for the Jazz Jubilee on Memorial Day weekend. She wondered if it would be possible for him to meet us for dinner one evening to surprise me and help celebrate my milestone birthday.  He did not hesitate to accept and we had a wonderful evening together. As he headed back to Stockton, he loaned us his pass to the Solons’ Club at River Cats’ Stadium where we had tickets for a game the next night.  A heart as big as his frame; that’s how I’ll always remember him. We saw him at several such reunion events in later years where he was always a big hit, especially with his larger-than-life personality and good humor. Then, one year, he was suddenly no longer there.  He had passed away before attending a similar and even larger reunion event held each year in Carson, CA.  I’m so happy to have known him. Having his autograph is every bit as important to me as some of the ones I have from major leaguers.  After all, he and his generation of players are what caused me to become the fan I am of this great game called baseball.

Any Player/Any Era: Ed Walsh

What he did: If you’ve heard of Old Hoss Radbourn and marvel at his Baseball Reference page, Ed Walsh should be right up your alley. Walsh is one of baseball’s earliest greats, yet is often forgotten.

Walsh began his career in earnest at 25 in 1906, by throwing 278.1 innings for the Chicago White Sox. Walsh dominated the field, posting a 1.88 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 2.95 K:BB rate and 137 ERA+.

He took a major step forward the following season, leading the league in ERA (1.60), games (56), games started (46), complete games (37), saves (4), IPs (422.1) and ERA+ (151). He also fielded his position well, accumulating 227 assists, the most by a pitcher in a season.

Yet, 1907 was by no means his masterpiece; 1908 was. He pitched 464 innings, the second most innings in any season since 1893, and won 40 games the second most wins in a season since 1893. In addition, he started 49 games, the eighth most games started in a season since 1893. He had 190 assists this year, the third most ever.

Two seasons later, Walsh allowed just 7.47 base runners per nine innings, tied for the fifth least in a season since 1893 (min. 1.0 IP per scheduled game).

When it was all said and done, Walsh pitched 57 shutouts, tied for the 11th most all time. He also won 13 1-0 games, tied for the first most 1-0 victories. He had four seasons of 20 wins, 200 K’s and an ERA under 3.00, tied for the sixth most ever. Heck, he even stole home twice in his career.

Walsh’s 1.82 career ERA is unofficially the lowest by a pitcher (min. 1,500 IPs) in baseball history. Along the way, Walsh had a little help with his success. Hall-of-Famer Sam Crawford said, Ed Walsh “threw a spitball. I think that ball disintegrated on the way to the plate, and the catcher put it back together again. I swear, when it went past the plate, it was just the spit went by.”

Walsh had a very short but pronounced peak. From 1906-1912, he averaged 361 IPs, a 1.71 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 3.22 K:BB rate, and 156 ERA+.

Not surprisingly, Walsh’s arm began to suffer. After 1912, it was reported that Walsh wanted to take a year off, but showed up for Spring Training, claiming, The White Sox needed me—implored me to return—so I did.” Clearly this was a poor decision, as Walsh threw 393 innings in 1912 (with a 151 ERA+) and just 190.2 total in the five seasons that followed.

Walsh later said, “I could feel the muscles grind and wrench during the game, and it seemed to me my arm would leap out of my socket when I shot the ball across the plate. My arm would keep me awake till morning with a pain I had never known before.”

Era he would thrive in: Walsh would need an era that still allowed the spit ball but also overlapped with more modern medical advancements. For those reasons, he belongs in the mid- to late-1970s. The first Tommy John surgery was in 1974 and pitchers like Gaylord Perry continued to throw spitters as late as the early 80s. Consequently, Walsh could still use the pitch that made him famous while getting the medical attention he’d need for overuse. It’s also possible that throwing only 300 innings a season would delay his need for medical attention. For many reasons, Walsh probably would have thrived on the 1970s Baltimore Orioles.

Why: The Baltimore Orioles of the 1970s were fantastic clubs, helmed by Earl Weaver. They had consistently excellent pitching, but had far from a stable rotation (aside from Jim Palmer). In ’75, Walsh could have taken Ross Grimsley’s starts and help a club that finished second but went 90-69. In ’76, Walsh would replace Mike Cuellar’s and Grimsley’s poor innings for another second place Orioles club. He could do the same (replacing Grimsley) for another second place club in ’77. In ’78, he could replace beloved Mike Flanagan’s 281.1 IPs of 87 ERA+ pitching for an Orioles club that went 90-71 and remarkably finished in fourth place.

In short, Walsh would lead the staff for a team that perpetually threatened 100 wins. Normalizing Walsh’s stats to the 1971 Orioles would yield a 1.96 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 1,707 K’s to just 652 walks. In addition, the Orioles did a good job getting innings from pitchers and helping them through injuries. There’s no doubt Walsh’s career would have been extended.

Manicball: A history of mental illness in baseball

Editor’s note: It’s my pleasure to present the following piece by Stacey Gotsulias. Stacey is a senior MLB editor for and wrote the biography on Mike Schmidt for the BPP All-Time Dream Project. She also writes with blunt honesty about her battles with mental illness, and as we’ve gotten to be friends, I thought a piece from her on this and another subject she knows well, baseball, might be apt. Enjoy.


Marty Bergen

There are many times when just hearing a sentence can change your life. The one that changed mine on a dreary winter morning back in 2007 was, “You have bipolar disorder.” And as I sat there listening to the doctor explain what that diagnosis meant, I was both relieved and frightened. I know it seems like quite a paradox but I was relieved because I finally knew what was happening to me. After many years of sudden mood swings, numerous panic attacks, long bouts of depression and a few confusing manic episodes, I was finally told what was wrong with me. At the same time, I was also frightened because of everything I knew about bipolar disorder.

The stories that came out about people with the disease were never positive and now, I was one of them. I’d hear about people disappearing for days at a time, or I’d see stories on the news about people who were once famous but who struggled with the disorder. They were usually haggard, sometimes living on the streets. Or even worse, I’d hear about people snapping and going on rampages.

Was that going to be my future? I’ll admit the thought of what could happen to me was pretty disturbing.

In the five years since my diagnosis, the stigma of having a mental illness has lessened a bit, though there are some people who are quick to dismiss it. They act as if the disorder– whatever it may be– is something only in our heads or that it’s something we can just fix ourselves. Believe me, I wish it were that simple. I would love nothing more than to wake up one morning and declare that I no longer have bipolar disorder. Most people who suffer from mental illness would rather be normal, whatever that is. Sadly, that is not a reality.

Having a mental illness is like having diabetes or any other disease. There are meds to be taken, regular visits to the doctor where– in this case– behavior is monitored. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong struggle, and unfortunately, it doesn’t magically go away.


The sport of baseball has seen its share of players who have suffered from various types of mental illnesses. In recent years, stars Dontrelle Willis and Zack Greinke have had well documented struggles with social anxiety disorder. In 2009, when Willis was diagnosed people were pretty callous, joking that his anxiety was because of his high ERA. Willis also didn’t help himself when he returned to Spring Training the following year saying he wasn’t seeking help for his disorder nor taking medication. Willis said that it was in God’s hands.

Two-time All Star Jimmy Piersall struggled with bipolar disorder, known during his career as manic depression. Piersall got into fights with opposing players— a famous brawl occurred in 1952 when he goaded Billy Martin of the New York Yankees into a fight– as well as fans and teammates. Piersall was once ejected from a game but went into the stands to berate the umpires from the upper deck. Piersall spent some time in a facility in 1953 and stated in his autobiography, Fear Strikes Out, “Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Who ever heard of Jimmy Piersall, until that happened?”

And in the early 20th century, poor Charlie Faust who barely played baseball, was used as a joker or jester of sorts, and was institutionalized only to die of tuberculosis the following year. The story on Faust was that in 1911, he was informed by a fortune teller in his hometown in Kansas that he needed to pitch for the New York Giants, in order for them win the pennant. So Faust traveled to St. Louis where the Giants were playing. He had no prior experience playing baseball but he told manager John McGraw of the prophecy. Superstitious as baseball men were and still are, McGraw kept Faust on the bench, paying him out of pocket, and the Giants won the pennant. When the Giants began to lose, Faust was cast aside.

The story of Marty Bergen is darker. He played catcher for the Boston Beaneaters, helping lead them to the National League pennant in 1897 and 1898. Bergen was known primarily for throwing runners out than his prowess as a hitter– his career slash line of .265/.299/.347 doesn’t exactly jump out. But Bergen was also known for something much more sinister:

Even as a teenager, Bergen had showed signs of anxiety and stress. He would become moody, pout, and storm off if he felt that he wasn’t getting his fair share of applause. In 1891, his first professional season, he engaged in a brutal fistfight with one of his teammates. During his time in Boston, Bergen had several run-ins with teammates and opponents. Newspapers commonly referred to his erratic behavior, describing him as “sullen and silent” and highlighting his moodiness, aloofness, and inaccessibility.

Though Bergen had been known to struggle with bouts of depression and had experienced violent mood swings, everything came to a head after his eldest child and namesake Martin, died in 1899.

Marty Bergen began imagining things that weren’t happening. He believed everybody from opposing teams to his own teammates were trying to poison him. He even believed that his own doctor and wife were trying to poison him. Bergen’s doctor was only prescribing bromides, which weren’t a real cure at all, especially for Bergen, they just helped to calm people down when they were anxious.

At first his teammates, when speaking to the media, would mention Bergen’s bouts with violence– he once punched a teammate during a team breakfast– but they also said that once he was on the field, everything was forgotten and that he was fine. Another issue was that as much as Bergen had become a problem within the organization, he was still popular with the fans and in 1898, Bergen had his best season .280/.302/.359 with a 46 percent caught stealing rate.

But by the end of the 1899 season, Bergen’s erratic behavior had become too much for his teammates; so much so that several of them threatened to not return to the team if Bergen were there in 1900.

This would never come to pass because on the morning of January 19, 1900, Bergen woke up, took an axe, and killed his two children and his wife before slitting his throat with a razor so violently that he nearly decapitated himself.

The little boy (Bergen’s 3-year-old son) was lying on the floor with a large wound in the head. Mrs. Bergen’s skull was terribly crushed, having evidently been struck more than one blow by the infuriated husband. The appearance of the little girl (his 6-year-old daughter found on the kitchen floor next to Bergen) also showed that a number of savage blows had been rained upon the top and side of her head. Bergen’s throat had been cut with a razor, and the head was nearly severed.

After his death, his own doctor called Bergen insane and a maniac. The doctor also claimed that Bergen was beyond help.

Bergen knew he wasn’t right but he was so paranoid that he couldn’t help himself. He’d disappear from his team for days at a time, usually retreating to his farm in Massachusetts to be with his family and then would show up to play like nothing had happened.

During one game in 1898, Bergen was behind the plate and envisioning the pitcher was throwing knives at him. The visions were so real; he was dodging out of the way of the knives. Needless to say, Bergen was removed from that game.


If Marty Bergen were living in 1999 as opposed to 1899, he could have gotten the help he needed, instead of being turned away by his friends and his doctor. That’s not to say that murder-suicides don’t happen now– they most certainly do– but mental illness is understood much better now than it was over 100 years ago. Bergen would have been diagnosed early, would have been given medication, and wouldn’t have been left to his own devices.

In 2001, Sports Illustrated published an article about Bergen called ‘Collision At Home.’ In that article, the last day of his life is examined and a doctor from Harvard Medical School attempted to diagnose Bergen from what had been written about him.

In addition to paranoia, Martin Bergen most likely suffered from schizophrenia with a touch of manic depression. “If I had to make a diagnosis, that would be it,” says Dr. Carl Salzman, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who examined various contemporary accounts of Bergen’s behavior. Schizophrenia, Salzman says, can be marked by delusions such as Bergen experienced: “a belief that something is happening that isn’t, and it’s usually threatening. Other symptoms are withdrawal, inability to socialize, or fear of socializing; flat or dull feelings, not the usual range of expression of emotion; and difficulty thinking and controlling one’s thoughts. It’s a brain disease that causes the person to be more vulnerable to the usual stresses of life.”


The game of baseball should be an escape, whether for spectators or for players. I am grateful to be able to watch games and write about them. I’m grateful that for a few hours, my everyday struggles are put on the back burner. For men like Greinke, Willis, Piersall, Faust, and Bergen, even playing the game they love was a struggle.

And though I sometimes feel like I’ve been given a raw deal because my life has been forever altered by my bipolar diagnosis, I also realize my circumstances could be far more dire. I’m lucky because I wasn’t thrown into a mental institution during one of my manic phases. If I had lived a century ago, I easily could have been.

I think about Charlie Faust and Marty Bergen, who didn’t have the same options as I do, and I feel a mixture of sadness and anger. Poor Faust was laughed at and thought of as a clown. His delusions were fodder for everyone else. And poor Marty Bergen, even while he was crying out for help, he was ultimately ignored, and his family paid the price.