El Hombre vs. The Man

Stan Musial retired in 1963, having just concluded his then-record 20th consecutive all-star season, a surefire Hall of Famer and all-time great. In 21 Major League seasons, all in St. Louis, Musial amassed 3,630 hits, a .331 batting average, 475 homeruns, and three MVP trophies. He was and still is the undisputed greatest Cardinal of all-time.

But today, almost 50 years after Musial’s last game, another St. Louis slugger is threatening Stan’s title. Albert Pujols is 31 years old (or so he says) and already one of the most accomplished players in baseball history. The first-baseman has matched Musial’s MVP total, and, according to baseballreference.com, Pujols’s career WAR of 88.7 ties him with Carl Yastrzemski for 42nd all-time.

But Pujols is a free-agent this off-season, and we can all agree that it’s loads of fun to transpose his face onto opposing teams’ uniforms. Rumor has landed him everywhere from Chicago to Miami, yet consensus remains that the Dominican-born Missouri native will remain under the Gateway Arch’s shadow. Were Pujols to leave St. Louis, he would sacrifice the opportunity to ascend the list of Cardinals legends and surpass Musial as the storied franchise’s greatest player ever.

11 seasons into his Major League career, Pujols’s numbers are strikingly Musial-like. After Stan the Man’s 11th full season in the majors (1953), he boasted a lifetime OPS+ of 172, 3,746 total bases and a WAR of 89.6. Pujols, to this point, owns an OPS+ of 170, 3,893 total bases and a WAR of 88.7. Statistically, the two are, through 11 seasons, essentially identical.

But, upon closer examination, Musial’s early-career numbers aren’t quite as impressive as they appear. While many of his contemporaries missed three seasons to World War II service, Musial fought for only one. The absence of Major League star-power on the mound helped fuel some of Stan’s most productive seasons. He topped the league in OPS+ in both 1943 and 44, winning an MVP and padding his career stats with two years of sub-standard competition. Numbers he accrued during this time period can’t be taken at face value.

And while we’ve examined the pair through the first 11 seasons of their respective careers, Pujols is two years younger than Musial was at that point (if, of course, Pujols’s reported age is to be believed). And while Pujols’s statistics regressed slightly in 2011, a strong second half suggests that he should bounce back with a typical MVP-caliber campaign in 2012. Musial followed the aforementioned 11-season start to his career with an exceptional 1954, before falling off marginally in ’55 and ’56, bouncing back to finish 2nd in the NL MVP voting in ’57 and declining steadily from there. The second half of his career was productive but not other-worldly (he was no Barry Bonds), and there’s no reason to believe Pujols can’t follow a comparable pattern. Barring injury or unforeseen decline, Pujols should remain on his Musial-like pace.

So Pujols will, regardless of location, retire with extraordinary career totals. If he remains in St. Louis he could very well end up the greatest player in Cardinals history. If he spurns common expectation and leaves town, he’ll have to settle for being one of the ten or fifteen best players of all-time. Assuming that he stays in St. Louis, Stan the Man better look out; El Hombre is on a historic pace.

The Forgotten Canadian

I recently came across a book about a subject which I must admit hasn’t always been near and dear to my heart despite my heritage.  It was about Canadians who have played in the major leagues, focusing mainly on Larry Walker, but covering a history that dates back to the 1800’s.

There was one name there which especially caught my eye, a player I had forgotten about but one I consider to be one of the best to have come out of Canada.  What to my mind made this player all the more remarkable was not only that he came from Canada, but where in Canada he came from.

Terry Puhl played 15 seasons in the major leagues and was a mainstay of the Houston Astros from 1977 until his retirement with the Kansas City royals in 1991.  His career stats include a .280 batting average,  62 homeruns and 435 RBI.  Not remarkable or eye popping perhaps but when taken in the context of the times, much better than average.

In those days, visits by scouts to hockey mad Canada were either few and far between, or subject to more skepticism than visits around the USA.  Certainly this attitude was justified.  The baseball season in Canada is much shorter than the USA or countries in the warmer climes.  Competent baseball coaches in Canada were seldom found and Canadian kids blossomed a couple of years later if at all compared to those in other countries.  The warmer regions of Canada are in British Columbia and southern Ontario and even those seasons are relatively short.

For a kid coming out of Melville, Saskatchewan, the odds must have seemed greater than impossible.  At the risk of generalizing, the prairies of Saskatchewan are cold and the winters are long.  Ideal for hockey, not so good for baseball.  How could a kid from this place even dream about being a professional baseball player?

After signing with the Astros in 1973, Puhl came up to stay in July 1977.  He immediately became the Astros regular left fielder and batted .301 in 60 games.   The next season he became the sole Houston representative to the All-Star game and in the 1980 championship playoffs he batted a then record .526.  As of 2010, Puhl owned the ninth best lifetime fielding percentage of any major league outfielder.

He played a quiet and seemingly unassuming outfield throughout his career with a consistency matched by few other players.  He was a table setter on a Houston team which featured speed and defense over power due to the dimensions of the Astrodome.  But he was not a slap and run hitter, typical of Houston and much of the astro turf era. He hit doubles and triples.  He was steady and consistent. He hit .372 in postseason play.

In 1994, Puhl was elected to the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of fame and in 1995 he was elected to the Canadian Baseball hall of Fame. In 2007 he was hired as the baseball coach at University of Houston-Victoria where he has compiled a record of 96-44.

His overall numbers are those of an average to good major league player.  But those numbers are all the more remarkable when one considers the era he came from the place he came from and his quiet, it’s all about the team demeanor.   He would probably not appreciate this mention.  He probably just loves the game we all love.

But as a fellow Canadian who tried his best but was never good enough or really had the chance in those olden days, I always did and still admire his style of play and his accomplishments.  What I found even more remarkable is that he made it at all.

Pete Runnels Makes My Top Fifty

In my last blog, I identified Mickey Vernon as one of my choices for Baseball Past and Present’s Second Annual “Fifty Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame” voting.

While I was researching Vernon, I realized that his Washington Senators’ teammate from 1951 to 1955, Pete Runnels, was a solid if not spectacular player, too. And since Runnels never received even a single vote for the Hall, I’m including him just because.

There’s not a team in the Major Leagues that would not jump at the chance to sign a Runnels-type player. One of the most consistent hitters from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, Runnels won two batting titles for the Boston Red Sox (1960 and 1962) who acquired him in a trade from the Senators for Albie Pearson and Norm Zauchin. During Runnels’ 1960 batting title season (.320), he knocked in only 35 runs—hard to do given that his 169 hits included 33 for extra bases. Runnels barely missed out on a third title (1958) when on the season’s final day in Washington against his old Senators, he went 0-4 while the eventual winner, Ted Williams, got two hits.

Always the gentleman, Runnels later said:

I enjoyed Ted’s 1958 catching me [for the batting crown] on the final day more than the later titles of 1960 and 1962 because of the great competition. Wasn’t he capable?

Still, Runnels was quick to attribute his success as a Red Sox to Williams who taught him to slap the balls into infield holes and slice line drives off Fenway Park’s Green Monster. In five Red Sox seasons, Runnels averaged .320 and never hit less than .314. A master at bat control, he was a notorious singles hitter who had one of the game’s best eyes and compiled an outstanding 1.35 walk-to-strikeout ratio (844-to-627). Altogether Runnels batted over .300 six times, once with the Senators, five with the Red Sox.

Runnels, who played all four infield positions with above average skill and appeared in three All Star games, finished his career with a .291 average. After his last two seasons with the HoustonColt .45s, Runnels returned to coach the Red Sox (1965-1966). Then when Boston fired manager Billy Herman, Runnels was tapped as the Red Sox new pilot to manage the last 16 games. Retired from baseball, Runnels returned to his Pasadena, Texas home to open a sporting goods store.Runnels attended Rice Institute (now Rice University) and served in the U.S. Marines (1945-1948). In 1991, at age 63, Runnels  died from a heart attack he suffered in Houston.  The Boston Red Sox induced Runnels into its Hall of Fame in 2004.

Any player/Any era: Pedro Martinez

What he did: On the surface, Pedro Martinez’s 2000 season is impressive enough: 18-6 record, 1.74 ERA, 284 strikeouts, and the best WHIP of all-time, 0.737. Of course he was the American League Cy Young, and Martinez even finished fifth in MVP voting. Usually, these kinds of years for pitchers come during times that favor them, the Deadball Era, the pitching Golden Age of the 1960s, and such. But Martinez did his thing at the height of the Steroid Era when offense reigned supreme. His ERA+ was an almost-comical 291, courtesy of an AL average ERA of 4.91.

In 1931, Lefty Grove dominated in similar circumstances, overcoming one of the greatest offensive years in baseball history. This was the season the Yankees scored 1,067 runs and still finished second, where Babe Ruth had an OPS+ of 218 and didn’t come close to winning MVP. That went to Grove who finished 31-4 with a 2.06 ERA, leading most major statistical categories for pitchers, and taking his Philadelphia Athletics to the World Series. If he’d been in a pitcher’s era, there’s no telling what Grove might have done. And given the similarities between Grove and Martinez, both men temperamental, brilliant flamethrowers, it makes me wonder how Martinez might have fared in his place.

Era he might have thrived in: We’re putting Martinez on the last great team Connie Mack managed before the Great Depression forced him to scuttle his dynasty. The ’31 A’s boasted the likes of Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Mickey Cochrane, went 107-45 in the regular season, and then took the Gashouse Gang St. Louis Cardinals to seven games in the World Series. I don’t know if Martinez could have filled in for Grove’s 31 wins, given that he pitched more than 200 innings just seven times in his career. In most other departments, though, Martinez would be a dominant force in 1931.

Why: First off, I ran Martinez’s 2000 numbers through the stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com. With the A’s in 1931, his stats convert to a 19-3 record with a 1.83 ERA and 264 strikeouts. I’ll admit I don’t always trust the B-R converter for pitching stats, and in this case, it has Martinez throwing just 202 innings in a year that Grove had to throw 288 (which later contributed to him blowing out his arm and becoming a junkballer his last several seasons.) That being said, a lot of things still seem to favor Martinez thriving in 1931, assuming of course we suspend disbelief about his dark skin keeping him from playing in the majors prior to 1947.

He’d have a great team, an iconic, underrated one in historical terms, really. He’d have a legendary manager who guided Hall of Fame pitchers like Rube Waddell, Chief Bender, and Grove and who loved to use his hurlers for both starting and relief. Martinez thrived in both capacities through the course of his career. And in the ’30s, Martinez would be pitching in a time where a young flamethrower didn’t need a complex repertoire of pitches. Really, before Grove hurt his arm, he was a thrower more than he was a pitcher, someone who could just chuck fastballs. Martinez could do likewise. Would it be enough to silence the bats of men like Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Gehringer and others? I don’t know. But it might be enough to secure a Hall of Fame plaque for Martinez who in his own era doesn’t quite seem a lock for Cooperstown.

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 Rockies,Barry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob Watson,Bobby VeachCarl MaysCharles Victory FaustChris von der Ahe,Denny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleEddie LopatFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJackie RobinsonJim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertPaul DerringerPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey Henderson,Roberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam Thompson,Sandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWill ClarkWillie Mays

One Vote for Mickey Vernon

Preparing my ballot for Baseball: Past and Present’s annual 50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame project, I put on the top of my list Dwight Eisenhower’s favorite Washington Senators player, Mickey Vernon.

Here’s how Vernon became Ike’s #1. On Opening Day 1954 Vernon walloped a two-run homer off New York Yankees’ pitcher Allie Reynolds that won the game for the Senators, 5-4, in the bottom of the 10th. After he touched home plate, Vernon was grabbed by a man he mistook for an overly zealous fan. But it was a Secret Service agent who escorted Vernon to the president’s box where Eisenhower told him, “Nice going.”

In 14 full seasons (measured by 400 at bats or more), Vernon batted over .335 twice, over .300 five times and over .290 nine times. He had two outstanding seasons: 1946 when he won his first batting title with a .353 average and 1953 when he won his second (.337) edging out Cleveland’s Al Rosen by .001 Vernon’s career high in home runs came in 1954 with 20.

Vernon’s final season was unusual. In 1960, he spent most of the year as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first base coach. But the Pirates, in need of a left-handed pinch hitter for the stretch drive, activated Vernon in September.  In eight plate appearances, Vernon managed only one hit and returned to the coach’s box where he remained for the World Series.

During his 20-season career, Vernon played for the Cleveland Indians, the Milwaukee Braves and the Boston Red Sox as well as the Senators and Pirates. Vernon also managed the expansion Senators from 1961-1963.

In addition to his two batting titles, Vernon was a 7 time All Star, led the league in doubles three times, participated in 2,044 double plays, the most in major league history, and fielded .990, an astonishing average.

But for a miscommunication, Vernon could have notched a sixth .300 season. In 1941, the Senators’ final three games were in New York. Coming into the series, Vernon was hitting .302 and manager Bucky Harris offered to sit him. But Vernon declined. By Sunday, his average had dipped to .299. Yankees’ third baseman Red Rolfe pulled Vernon aside in the runway and told him to lay down a bunt. “I’ll be back on my heels,” Rolfe said. The game was inconsequential since the Yankees had wrapped up the pennant weeks earlier.

In Vernon’s first three at-bats, the Senators had men on base so he had no bunt opportunity. But in his last at bat and needing the one hit, Vernon looked down the third base line where, as he had promised, Rolfe was playing deep. Vernon, feeling certain that .300 was a lock, put down his bunt. Rolfe didn’t make a play. But catcher Bill Dickey, remembered Vernon:

…came charging out, picked up the ball and threw me out. We had forgotten about him and I ended up with .299.

The Mickey Vernon Sports Museum in Chadds Ford, PA honors Vernon’s career and military service. Vernon. a U.S. Navy World War II veteran, died in 2008 from stroke complications.

The seven greatest seasons for pitchers since 1950

I’m pleased to present another guest post from Rory Paap of www.PaapFly.com. Rory made his debut here on Monday with Great pennant races in San Francisco Giants history. Now, Rory expands his focus beyond one team.


Despite 2010 being the purported “Year of the Pitcher,” no individual has distinguished himself as spectacularly as in years past. Don’t get me wrong, some of these pitchers are having outstanding seasons, they are just not historical in aggregate. Cliff Lee is having one of the best seasons ever in terms of strikeouts per walk. He was a threat to dethrone Bret Saberhagen and claim his record from 1994, but he has since relinquished his once tight grip on this feat. He’s still currently in fourth all-time at 9.83, behind Saberhagen (11) and two seasons by a chap named Jim Whitney (10 and 9.86) in 1884 and 1883.  And though I’ll be focusing on starting pitching, the Cubs’ closer Carlos Marmol is having the greatest strikeout season of all time per 9 IP at 15.94, or 134 in just 75.2 innings.

Roy Halladay is having one of his usual tremendous seasons and Felix Hernandez has been great despite his W/L record (due to the putrid, offensively challenged lineup (not) backing him). But, I’m not sure any of these guys’ cleats are going to the Coop for their efforts this season. Well, maybe Halladay’s perfect game spikes.

So, I set out to find the most outrageous seasons for a pitcher since 1950.  To do this, I went to http://baseball-reference.com and checked out the all-time leaders in WAR per season.  I went down all the way to about the top 200 because obviously a pitcher who threw 350 innings is going to rack up quite a bit more WAR, and I wanted to drill down to those great performances in a five-man rotation.  I then eliminated anything pre-1950.  I also eliminated anyone who wasn’t primarily a starting pitcher, and anyone who hadn’t thrown at least 200 innings. Lastly, I took their WAR, divided it by IP, and multiplied that by 200 innings.

My method may not be the best way, but it’s certainly a way to do this, if not a sound one. Keep in mind this eliminates some fantastic seasons by the likes of Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax.  And interestingly, none remaining were left handed pitchers. Without further adieu, the top seven:

7) Bob Gibson, 1968 (7.82 WAR per 200 IP): It almost seems fitting we should start in the sixties, a decade filled with brilliant Hall of Fame pitchers. Gibson dominated with a 1.12 ERA, the best since 1906, and had 13 shutouts! He K’d 268 in 304.2 IP with just 62 walks (4.32 ratio) for an ERA+ of 258. He would yield just 11 HR for a rate of just .3 per 9 IP. His WHIP was just .853. You couldn’t get on, hit a dinger, or do much against Gibson that season. I guess that’s why 38 percent of his starts were shutouts.

6) Zack Greinke, 2009 (7.86): Who knew?  There was concern that Greinke might not win the Cy Young because he 1) had only 16 wins, and 2) pitched for the small market, lowly Royals. But Greinke was spectacular and did win it.  He posted a 2.16 ERA and an ERA+ of 205 in 229.1 IP. He yielded just 11 HR and K’d 242 to 51 walks (4.75 ratio).  His WHIP all said and done was an excellent 1.073.  His season was one of all around excellence in limiting the HR, not walking many and striking out more than a batter per inning. Not bad for a guy whose shortstop was Yuniesky Betancourt.

5) Pedro Martinez, 1999 (7.88): Pedro was untouchable for a time during the height of the steroid era, which is remarkable. In ’99, his ERA was 2.07 in 213.1 IP with an ERA+ of 243.  He finished with just 4 losses and 23 wins while striking out a ridiculous 313 – 13.2 per 9 IP, i.e. second best ever – to 37 walks (8.46 ratio).  What’s more, he limited opponents to just 9 total HR and had a .923 WHIP. His changeup was dazzling, his fastball electric.

4) Roger Clemens, 1990 (8.33): The Rocket is the pitching version of Bonds, another case where a no doubt HoF caliber player will perhaps be shunned from enshrinement due to alleged (and extremely likely) steroid use. There’s a great chance he was clean in ’90, and boy was he good. He went 21-6 with a 1.93 ERA, his ERA+ 213.  Through 228.1 IP, he whiffed 209 and walked just 54 (3.87 ratio).  His WHIP was 1.082 and he gave up just 7 HR – or .3 per 9 IP. Oddly, he’s the only one on this list who didn’t take home the hardware as a not nearly as good Bob Welch (27-6) obviously benefited from his Bash Brother and Rickey Henderson aided wins.

3) Greg Maddux, 1995 (8.41): What would this list be without the professor?  Maddux was brilliant often, but especially in ’95 where his back door and front door sinker flummoxed would be hitters all season long. He went 19-2 and his 209.2 innings included 181 K’s, just 23 walks and 8 HR.  His ERA+ was mesmerizing at 262 and his ERA 1.63. His 7.87 K’s per walk is one of the better ratios ever seen and when coupled with a .811 WHIP and an extreme stinginess to give up the long ball (.3 per 9 IP) – well, maybe it’s a good thing the season was strike shortened, for the hitters anyway.

2) Dwight Gooden, 1985 (8.47): Doc is one of the best examples of what could have been, and of the sadness and devastation substance abuse can bring. In ’85, he went 24-4 and finished with a 1.53 ERA and a 229 ERA+. Perhaps most amazing about his season was the fact that he was just 20 years old. Amidst his 276.2 innings of worked – yes, they handled their young pitchers a tad differently back then – he struck out 268 batters and walked 69 (3.88 ratio). Nearly a quarter of his starts were shutouts.  He relented just the 13 HR and had a WHIP of .965. He would pitch his Mets to a ring the following season.

1) Pedro Martinez, 2000 (9.31): It also seems fitting that (perhaps) the most dominant season in history belongs to the only player that appears on my list of seven twice. He’s the only pitcher to approach 9 WAR in 200 innings, and he nearly beat the second best season by an entire win.  If there was ever an example of how outrageous it is to evaluate pitchers by wins and losses, this is it.  Pedro went 18-6 despite a 1.74 ERA. How? I do not know.  What’s more, his ERA+ of 291 tells us that he was roughly three times better than the average starter in 2000. He threw 217 innings and punched out 284 (11.8 or ninth best ever), while walking just 32 (8.88 ratio or seventh best ever). He somehow gave up 17 HR despite his nasty repertoire.  Had he somehow limited those more, this season would have been even more unfathomable. Some lucky hitters must have just run into a few. His .737 WHIP is the best EVER, dating back to the 1800’s. Is he a first ballot Hall of Famer? Yes, please!

I think this group would probably have a few things to say about the 2010, so called “Year of the Pitcher.

All stats pulled http://baseball-reference.com/


This guest post was written by Rory Paap, who founded www.PaapFly.com in 2009.

Baseball’s Most Fortunate Player: Matt Capps

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor here. Today’s post centers on a notoriously terrible ball club. To any members of the Pittsburgh Pirates reading, Joe offers a prayer on how to get to another team and what happens when prayers are seemingly answered.


Exactly a year ago, Matt Capps was a reviled relief pitcher on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Capps, along with the rest of the Bucs, had suffered through a miserable season that ended with 99 losses. But since Capps was the closer and underperformed with a 4-8, 5.80 ERA, he was subjected to more than his share of fan abuse and media scorn.

Then, in the off season, a miracle befell Capps. When the Pirates didn’t tender Capps, he signed with the Washington Nationals.

Capps, whether revitalized because he was lifted from the heavy burden of playing for the Pirates, overjoyed to be reunited with former Pirate refugees Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett or whether he simply regained his earlier skills (2006: 9-1; 3.78, 2007: 4-7; 2.28, 2008: 2-3; 3.02) isn’t clear.

Whatever the reason, Capps (3-3; 2.74 with 26 saves) was the only Nat named to the All-Star Game. Then, just as Capps must have been thinking that he was the luckiest player alive to have escaped Pittsburgh and suddenly become a member of the baseball elite, an even bigger miracle took place.

The cellar dwelling Nats traded Capps to the then-pennant contending and now American League Central champion Minnesota Twins, an odds-on favorite to reach and possibly win the World Series.

Capps has proved his worth. Since arriving in Minnesota, he’s 1-0, 2.25 ERA with 15 saves.

Imagine: in less than a year, Capps went from the 18-consecutive losing seasons Pirates to a post-season World Series contender!

I’m happy for Capps. During the baseball season, I’m a PNC Park tour guide for the Pirates. Capps tirelessly signed autographs for the school kids when they visited the park. He graciously signed their shirts, shoes, baseball cards, backpacks. In fact, all the Pirates are great with the fans.

But imagine the impact on the less lucky, remaining Pirates when they see their teammates like Capps, former National League batting champion Freddy Sanchez, Javier Lopez, Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, Jason Bay and others land on first division teams.

I imagine them every night on bended knees praying to be traded before their productive playing days end.

Anywhere they might land is a step up.

The Baltimore Orioles, for example, were the American League East’s punching bag for the season’s first months. Under Buck Showalter, the Orioles are reborn.

Consider the Astros. They spent April, May and the first week of June looking up at the Pirates and the rest of the National League Central Division. Since June 4, the Astros have won almost as many games–54– as the Pirates have all season (55).

The Cincinnati Reds trailed the Pirates for a large part of 2009 before pulling away at the end of the season to finish 78-84. On the final game of the year, the Reds shut out the Pirates, 6-0.

The Pirates and Reds picked up in 2010 exactly where they left off: the Reds climbed all the way to first place and division champion and the Pirates plunged down to the worst team in baseball.

Only five games remain in the 2010 season until the Pirates go their separate ways.

They’ll head home, possibly with a detour to their local church, where they’ll offer this plea: “Please, Lord, I promise a lifetime of good works if you get me out of Pittsburgh.”


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

Great pennant races in San Francisco Giants history

I’m pleased to present a guest post by Rory Paap of www.PaapFly.com. Rory emailed me after reading my interview with Joe Posnanski and offered to write something. Being a fellow Giants fan, I asked Rory to compare this year’s contenders to a few Giants playoff teams. The post is longer than what’s typically here. Rory explained to me that his writing is “Posnanski-ish, i.e. Curiously long.”



The 1951 Giants pulled off quite possibly the most stunning comeback in baseball history, coming back from 13 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers in August and winning 50 of their final 62 games to force a three game playoff. This culminated in the greatest call in sports history, the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” with Bobby Thomson hitting a three-run walk-off home run off Ralph Branca to give the Giants the National League pennant.

The Giants (run differential +140 against the Dodger’s +183) were sparked that year by rookie Willie Mays (3.5 WAR), who debuted May 25 and went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award. Giants fans will also recall Monte Irvin (6.3 WAR) – whose number was recently retired by the club – as he led the league with 121 RBI.

The Giants of today could have learned a lot from their 1951 counterparts. Wes Westrum (3.4 WAR), for example, despite hitting just .219, had an OBP of .400. This was because he drew 104 walks. Their second baseman, Ed Stanky (4.8 WAR), drew 127 walks. They had solid contributors throughout the team: AL Dark (5.2 WAR), the Scottish hero Bobby Thomson (4.8 WAR).  They also had excellent defenders in both the outfield and infield and had large contributions from starters Sal Maglie (6.1 WAR) and Larry Jansen (5.8 WAR).

Despite all the theatrics, the Giants lost the World Series in six to the New York Yankees.

1962 — JustThisClose

The 1962 season was another that had great promise but ended in disappointment.  Their lineup included McCovey, Mays (10.6 WAR) and Cepeda (3.1 WAR) to name a few.

Mays was absolutely sensational on defense (and offense) and led baseball with 49 HR. But he was also jobbed.  Somehow – and this is ludicrous – Maury Wills (6.1 WAR) won the National League Most Valuable Player award with a .720 OPS (100 OPS+, i.e. league average hitter).  This was likely because he stole 104 bags, but he wasn’t even the best player on his team. Tommy Davis had a 6.8 WAR by seasons end for the Dodgers.

The Giants had several solid contributors: Jim Davenport (5.0 WAR), Felipe Alou (5.4 WAR), and equitable pitching performances for the season: Marichal (3.6 WAR), Billy O’Dell (3.4 WAR), Jack Sanford (3.5 WAR). The Giants had the leagues best run differential at +188 versus the Dodgers’ +145, but once again needed a three game playoff to decide the pennant.

The Giants would again come out victorious but, once again, lose to the Yankees in the World Series, this time in seven.

1989 — Bay Bridge Series

The 1989 Giants will always be one to remember for Giants fans.  After the Loma Prieta earthquake struck just prior to game three of the first and only Bay Bridge series, the Giants were all but sunk, but there were so many tremendous memories along the way.

Kevin Mitchell (7.7 WAR) was NL MVP by hitting .291 (.388 OBP, .635 SLG, 1.023 OPS) and leading the league with 47 HR and 125 RBI. Will Clark (9.4 WAR) was even better, but didn’t have the gaudy power numbers. He hit .333 (.407 OBP, .546 SLG, .953 OPS) while knocking out 23 HR with 38 doubles and 9 triples. The Giants also had huge contributions from Robby Thompson (6.0 WAR).

They were built on offense with the biggest pitching contributors being Rick Reuschel (2.8 WAR) and Scott Garrelts (3.7 WAR). They took down the Padres down the stretch in a pretty weak division, as their run differential was +99 to the Padres +16. They finished a good but not great 92-70.

But, perhaps the story of the year was a guy who only pitched 13 innings. Dave Dravecky came back from a tumor in his pitching arm that was discovered the previous year to pitch the Giants to a 4-3 win over Cincinnati on August 10, 1989. It was truly inspiring. This was just 10 months after having a tumor removed along with 50% of his deltoid muscle. In his next start, his arm snapped in half on a pitch to Tim Raines – causing Dave to fall to the ground in agony – ending his career and ultimately costing him his arm. After it was remarkably broken again during the pennant clinching post game jubilation, a doctor once again discovered a mass in his arm.

2010 –Expect the Unexpected

The 2010 Giants have been very good overall, but they’ve done it in the most unexpected ways. I think the idea was to pitch brilliantly like they did in 2009, and behind their ace Tim Lincecum (2.8 WAR), but he’s only been good and not great. Matt Cain (4.1 WAR). Jonathan Sanchez (3.1 WAR), brilliant closer Brian Wilson (3.0 WAR) and in only 106 innings Madison Bumgarner (2.1 WAR) have actually been better than he.

Offensively, the idea was basically to surround Pablo Sandoval with enough offense to be considered average. They’re average, but with out-of-nowhere contributions. Andres Torres took over the CF job and posted 4.1 WAR before going down with an appendectomy. He’s done this by playing breathtaking defense and being a spark plug at the top of the lineup. Aubrey Huff (5.3 WAR) has experienced resurgence on his first winning team. He was in the MVP picture before fading of late while playing 3 positions for the Giants when he was ridiculed– by me included– for being a DH.

Burrell was dumped by the Rays and has been nothing but fantastic for the Giants with a 2.6 WAR while providing desperately needed power and patience. Management took far too long to bring up the phenom Posey, but he’s got a chance at RoY and has posted a 2.9 WAR in just 99 games. Uribe (1.6 WAR) was supposed to be a utility man, but instead has hit 22 HR while playing mostly shortstop. As for Sandoval, who was supposed to be the ballast of the lineup, he’s posted a 0.2 WAR just barely above replacement.

At the start of the weekend, the Giants had nine games to play and led the division by 1⁄2 game. Their +106 run differential is third best in the league and best in the division. They are in great position to play in October for the first time since 2003, but whether they do or don’t, don’t be surprised if something goofy happens.


This guest post was written by Rory Paap, who founded www.PaapFly.com in 2009. For a more complete Giants pennant history, read his post Gotham to Golden Gate, Generation to Generation on his blog.

(All WAR figures come from BaseballReference.com)

Double the fun: Koufax Delivers the 1966 Pennant to the Dodgers, Then Retires

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi. Every Saturday, Joe writes Double the fun, looking at a notable doubleheader in baseball history. Today, he writes about one that occurred near the end of a legendary hurler’s career.


After the 1966 season ended, Sandy Koufax shocked the baseball world when he announced his retirement.  Koufax, only 30, pitched 323 innings and posted a 27-9, 1.79 ERA that season.

To the casual fan, he seemed at his peak. But well known inside the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse was that Koufax suffered from an arthritic left elbow that made pitching excruciating. Rather than continue taking pain medication for his inflamed elbow and risk permanent damage, Koufax walked away.

For the six years leading up to his retirement, Koufax may have been the most dominant pitcher in baseball history. From 1961 through 1966, Koufax went 132-47, won five straight ERA titles, tossed four no-hitters including a perfect game, won three Cy Young Awards, each time unanimously, led the league in strike outs four times, fanned 18 batters in a game twice, was voted onto seven All Star teams and was the National League MVP in 1963.

The last regular season game Koufax pitched, the night cap of a crucial October 2 double header against the Philadelphia Phillies, reflected all of his skills.

The Dodgers, locked in a close race with the San Francisco Giants and needing to win at least one of two on the season’s last day, sent their aces Don Drysdale and Koufax to the hill. In the opener, the Phillies behind Chris Short (20-10), knocked the Dodgers off, 4-3. The Phillies first batter John Briggs homered off Drysdale who was gone by the third inning.

Now it was up to Koufax, pitching on two days rest, to deliver the pennant.  Even though the game was meaningless to the fourth place Phillies, 19-game winner Jim Bunning got the nod. The game marked the first time two pitchers who had tossed perfect games went head-to-head. (Watch Koufax pitch the ninth inning of his September 9, 1965 perfecto against the Chicago Cubs here.)

Koufax pitched a masterful complete game giving up two earned runs and striking out ten while coasting to a 6-3 win. The Dodgers had led 6-0 going into the ninth.

The Dodgers then advanced to the World Series where one more start awaited Koufax.

In the series opener Drysdale, pitching poorly once more, gave up four runs in two innings and was yanked. The next day Koufax, again on short rest, allowed one earned run over six innings. But he was no match for the Orioles’ Jim Palmer who shut the Dodgers out, 6-0.

The Dodgers were also held scoreless in games three and four, losing 1-0 and 1-0, as the Birds completed a four-game sweep.

Koufax’s post-playing career has had ups and downs. In 1967, Koufax signed a ten-year contract with NBC for $1 million ($6,516,000 in current dollars) to broadcast the Saturday Game of the Week. But Koufax quit after six years.

Six years later, the Dodgers hired Koufax to be its minor league pitching coach. But Koufax’s uneasy relationship with then-manager Tommy Lasorda led to his 1990 resignation.

In 2003, Koufax temporarily ended his Dodger relationship when the New York Post (which, like the Dodgers, had become part of Rupert Murdoch’s corporate empire) published a story suggesting that he’s gay.

During his post-retirement period, Koufax’s personal life was as unsettled as his professional one. He married and divorced twice.

Happier news: the Hall of Fame elected Koufax in his first year of eligibility (1972) with 87 percent of the vote. The Sporting News named him #26 on its 1999 list of “The 100 Greatest Baseball Players”

Although he makes few public appearances, Koufax threw out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day 2008 to commemorate 50 years in Los Angeles.

Currently, Koufax serves on the advisory board of the Baseball Assistance Team, a charitable organization that helps needy former Major League Players.


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

In a Regular Season Game, 59-Year-Old Satchel Paige Dominates the Red Sox

Here’s the latest from Joe Guzzardi. Joe generally contributes guest posts Wednesday and Saturday, but due to personal circumstances is offering his first post on Friday this week.


One of the greatest challenges baseball historians face is evaluating the true accomplishments of the great Negro National League stars.

Record keeping was sporadic. The games weren’t covered by the main stream media but rather by weekly newspapers published for African-American readers that carried scant statistical information.

Anecdotes make up a large part of the Negro National League’s lore. For example, historians speculated for years that Josh Gibson hit 800 or more home runs. But recent research found that Gibson hit many of those homers in unofficial games against inferior competition, often makeshift barnstorming teams.

Most now agree that Gibson’s more accurate home run total for regulation games against comparable Negro National League teams is between 150 and 200.

A certain aura based on hearsay also surrounds Satchel Paige who pitched for seven Negro League teams as well as various minor league, Dominican and Mexican clubs. Who can say if Paige, as he claimed, really pitched 50 no hitters?

But, when Paige finally reached the major leagues in 1948 to pitch for the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and the Kansas City Athletics, an official scorer documented his achievements. Paige’s record (28-31; 3.29 ERA) is beyond dispute.

His brief time in the majors includes what may be the most remarkable feat in baseball history.

In 1965 at the age of 59 years, two months and eight days, Paige pitching for Charles O. Finley’s Athletics, started a late season game against the Boston Red Sox and hurled three scoreless innings.

Maverick owner Finley conceived the idea to sign and start Paige as a lark to boost the Athletics’ sagging attendance. That year the team, 59-103 and playing in front of an average of 3,000 fans, finished tenth. Paige inked a $3,500 contract and immediately declared: “I think I can still pitch and help this club.”

Finley, with considerable assistance from Paige, hyped the game masterfully. Before warming up, Paige sat in a rocking chair placed next to but not in the A’s underground bullpen. Paige said: “At my age, I’m close enough to being below ground level as it is.”

More theatrics: A white-uniformed nurse stood beside Paige to massage his arm before the game while a personal water boy handed him cool drinks.
Paige’s six children looked on; his wife Lahoma, expecting a seventh child, stayed home.

When the game began, Paige dominated. He recorded nine outs on only twenty-eight pitches and allowed just one hit, a double by Carl Yastrzemski. Ironically, during a Long Island semi-pro game a generation earlier, Yaz’s father had hit against Paige.

Relying on pinpoint control, Paige walked no one. According to teammate Ed Charles, Paige took only ten warm up tosses before “he proceeded to go out on the mound and shove the ball right up their you know what. Most of the kids on our team were saying: ‘What’s this old man doing? He should be in a retirement home.’”

Bill Monbouquette, Paige’s mound opponent and Satchel’s last strike out victim, said: “Satchel had better swings off me than I had off him.”

At the top of the fourth, Paige strode to the mound. But, as he had planned all along, manager Mel McGaha took Paige out so he could leave to a standing ovation.

Shortly after Paige reached the locker room, McGaha summed him back to the field where idolizing fans in the darkened Municipal Stadium flicked matches and lighters in his honor. To top it off, they sang “The Old Grey Mare” (For more details about the game and Paige’s career, read Larry Tye’s biography, Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend. See Tye’s interview that includes photos of Paige rocking in his chair here.)

The Los Angeles Times, one of the many major newspapers that turned out to cover the game, best summed Paige’s effort. In its recap, the Times wrote: “A gimmick yes. A joke, no.”

Certainly no major league hitter, including the likes of a brash, young slugger Tony Conigliaro or a seasoned veteran like Felix Mantilla, wanted to be shown up by a pitcher more than twice their ages.

The evening wasn’t a total success. The game drew only 9,289 fans. The A’s, with Don Mossi (5-7) in relief absorbing the defeat, lost 5-2 as Monbouquette (10-18) pitched a tidy (2:14) seven hit complete game.

After two more miserable seasons playing before empty stands, the Athletics pulled out of Kansas City to head for happier days in Oakland.

In its seven year history, the Kansas City Athletics most memorable, moments were the three innings that Paige dominated the Red Sox.


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