Tuesday, December 9, 2008

HOF gets Gordon, snubs Santo

The Veterans Committee of the Hall of Fame has reviewed the qualifications of a couple dozen candidates and decided to elect Joe Gordon, while snubbing the likes of Joe Torre and, most significantly, Ron Santo.

A couple of months ago, when the lists first came out, I reviewed the qualifications of the candidates. You can read my old posts here: Joe Gordon, Vern Stephens, Wes Ferrell, Sherry Magee, Bucky Walters, Carl Mays, Deacon White, and others.

I would have voted for Joe Gordon from the old-timers ballot and Torre, Santo, and Kaat from the new ballot.

I'm very surprised Torre didn't make it, but I suspect Torre will get in once he's retired completely. They waited to induct Tommy Lasorda until after he retired, too.

It's a shame about Kaat and Santo. They were truly great players and they really belong in there.

But anyway, congratulations to Joe Gordon's family.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Book Review: Remembering Yankee Stadium

You may have heard that old Yankee Stadium is no more, to be replaced next year by new Yankee Stadium. 2008 being the last year of old Yankee Stadium, a bevy of books was published commemorating the House that Ruth Built.

One of the best is Harvey Frommer's tome, Remembering Yankee Stadium (published by Stewart, Tabori, and Chang). In a nutshell, this book is beautifully illustrated with vintage photographs and contains hundreds of stories and remembrances from dozens of baseball personalities.

If you're searching for a book for that Yankee fan in your life, you really can't go wrong with this book.

I received a review copy of this over the summer, and I've been waiting to read it until the season ended and I had more time. I've been perusing it over the past few days and it really is a fun stroll down Yankee Stadium lane. It's organized by decade, beginning with the opening of the stadium in the 1920s all the way through this year.

The standard text, written by Frommer, covers all the significant historic moments in a no-frills, just-the-facts style, which uncovers lots of fun little details but doesn't break much new ground. In fact, I would have liked to read more in-depth information about some of the decisions and developments. For example, Frommer points out that the stadium was designed to favor left-handed hitters, but he doesn't explain why. Was it just for Babe Ruth? Was it to take advantage of the physical location and the setting sun...? Over the years, I've read conflicting statements about it, and I was hoping Frommer would settle the matter, but no.

Anyway, you're not really buying the book for the basic history anyway. You're buying it for the personal memories of players, fans, reporters, and stadium employees that make up a huge part of this book. It's amazing that Frommer was able to assemble such a wonderful collection of personalities, and they're going to carry you through the book. Whitey Ford, Sparky Lyle, Reggie Jackson, they're all here.

Really, you can't go wrong with this book as a holiday gift.

Where to buy:

Barnes & Noble

Friday, November 21, 2008

Farewell, Mike Mussina

Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina has announced his retirement. I was going to write a long piece examining his Hall of Fame chances, but Salon's King Kaufman beat me to it. Read that one.

I saw Mussina pitch when he was at Stanford and I was at Cal, about 19 or 20 years ago. Actually, even before that, I remember hearing his name come up during a pre-season discussion of college baseball with Cal's baseball coach at the time, Bob Milano. I'm not sure if Milano had actively recruited Mussina, who was from Pennsylvania, but either way, Mussina chose Stanford, our hated rival. I remember spelling his name "Masina" in my notes of that discussion.

Anyway, I remember watching Mussina pitch against Cal, both at Berkeley's Evans Field and Stanford's Sunken Diamond, and it was like a man pitching to boys. Mussina was so much better than anyone on the field at that time, it was scary. His fastballs just zipped in, and the catcher's glove seemed to pop louder than for the other pitchers. It's never a good idea to predict major league success for college stars--too many of them falter in the pro leagues--but Mussina was an exception. Everybody knew he'd be good in the big leagues.

I don't know what Mussina's like personally, but he always struck me as a mature, soft-spoken guy who never made trouble. Boring. Even his retirement reflects that idea. He didn't have a big in-season sendoff, or toy with his teams into luring him back to the diamond. He won 20 games in his final season, then he retired.

They don't make 'em like that much anymore.

History of the MVP Award

Earlier this week, Albert Pujols and Dustin Pedroia won their respective MVP Awards. I thought I'd take a moment to talk about the history of the MVP Award.

Record books often list Frankie Frisch and Lefty Grove as the first official MVP winners, both in 1931. But that’s just the first award sanctioned by the Baseball Writer's Association of America; MVP awards as voted on by sportswriters actually date back to the Chalmers Award. What's that?

Baseball’s earliest official most valuable player award, the Chalmers Award was originally instituted in 1910 to reward the major leagues’ batting champion. But after the controversial 1910 batting race, in which the St. Louis Browns conspired to hand the batting championship to Nap Lajoie instead of Ty Cobb, Chalmers changed its policy and awarded the prize—a Chalmers automobile—to the player in each league selected most valuable by a vote of sportswriters. The winners were: 1911, Wildfire Schulte (NL) and Ty Cobb (AL); 1912, Larry Doyle and Tris Speaker; 1913, Jake Daubert and Walter Johnson; 1914, Johnny Evers and Eddie Collins. After those awards, the Chalmers Company had fulfilled its five-year commitment to the award, and the honor was discontinued. Within a few years, the Chalmers company itself was discontinued.

A few years after Chalmers stopped awarding its autos as prizes, the leagues picked up the idea. American League president Ban Johnson wanted his league’s winners, selected by a poll of sportswriters, to have their names engraved on a monument to be built in the nation’s capital. The National League, by contrast, offered $1,000 cash for its winners. These League Awards, as they were called, were handed out from 1922 until 1928 for the AL and 1925 until 1929 for the NL.

They fell out of favor for a number of reasons: the AL’s monument was never built; MVP winners started demanding more money from their teams; and the AL disallowed repeat winners, which made a sham of the award because it shut out the league’s best players—Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

In the absence of League Awards, The Sporting News began selecting MVPs. The BBWAA started up in 1931, which is the award we recognize today. TSN continued to hand out its awards in direct competition with the BBWAA, and in the early years, the TSN award may have been more prestigious. For several years in the late 1930s and 1940s, the BBWAA and TSN unified their awards, but then they split again, and today, the honors compete with each other—although now it’s the BBWAA trophy that means more.

With a few minor changes, the voting structure in the 1930s is basically what we have today: two writers in each city rank 10 players on their ballots, the first place winner receiving 14 points, second place getting nine, third place eight, and so on.

For a long time, the record for MVP victories was three, held by Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Mickey Mantle, and Mike Schmidt. But Barry Bonds put that record out of reach earlier this century and owns 7 MVP Awards.

There has long been controversy about what constitutes an MVP winner. Is he the league’s overall best performer? Or is he the player who was most valuable to his team? Does his team’s position in the standings have any effect? How can a player be valuable to a last-place team when they could have finished last without him? MVP voters have never addressed these questions meaningfully. For example, in 1958 and 1959, they selected Ernie Banks, even though his team never contended for the pennant, because he was the best player in the league. But in 1947, Bob Elliot of the second-place Braves captured the award over Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize, who dominated the league’s offensive categories but didn’t play on pennant contenders. Ted Williams lost out on about three awards because his teams didn’t win the pennant (and because many writers hated him). And Joe DiMaggio won at least one award when he didn’t deserve it simply because his name was Joe DiMaggio. More recently, the strange voting criteria robbed Mark McGwire of the 1998 award, when he smacked a record 70 home runs, because his team didn’t compete for the pennant while the MVP winner, Sammy Sosa, played on a wild card team.

So what does it take to be the MVP? Let’s look at the statistics. Generally speaking, of course, you have to play on a pennant contender. In the history of the modern MVP award, only a handful of players won despite playing on losing teams. It helps to play a key defensive position like catcher or shortstop because you can win even if you don’t have the best batting totals. The most important offensive statistic is RBIs: over 40 percent of all MVP winners also led their league in RBIs; in fact, 11 MVPs led their league only in RBIs. The next most important statistic is slugging percentage (over 30 percent of winners led their league in that category), then home runs (about 30 percent). The least important offensive statistic? Stolen bases; only three stolen base leaders have won the MVP. Finally, it helps to be a nice guy: The media’s dislike of Ted Williams probably cost him a couple of awards. More recently, Mo Vaughn won the 1995 award over Albert Belle in no small part because Vaughn is a likable guy while Belle is not.

I'm sure somebody has done a true study of the MVP Award. I'm going to try to track one down and post a link.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Girl drafted by Japanese league team

In what is most likely a publicity stunt for a burgeoning new Japanese baseball league, a 16-year-old girl was drafted by a pro baseball team, making her the first girl ever to achieve that distinction. Money quote:

High school student Eri Yoshida was drafted by the Kobe 9 Cruise, a professional team in a new independent Japanese league that will start its first season in April.

I call it a publicity stunt because the chances of a 16-year-old anything succeeding in a professional league are slim to begin with, let alone a 5-foot tall sidearming knuckleballer. But I wish her the best of luck.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cy Young Award history

Now that Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum have been named the latest Cy Young Award winners, it's worth a moment to look at the history of the award.

The idea for the Cy Young Award came out of the belief that pitchers should be honored separately from position players. In one of his few positive accomplishments, commissioner Ford Frick helped orchestrate the new award, which initially honored one pitcher in both leagues, as selected by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Frick instituted the award partly because pitchers received little representation in the MVP voting. So it’s ironic that the first Cy Young winner was the man who also won that year’s MVP award: Brooklyn’s Don Newcombe in 1956.

(In fact, pitchers’ eligibility for both awards has never been addressed by the BBWAA, and every time a guy wins both, griping can be heard all over the land. The gripers do have a point: Why should one group of players have the chance to win two awards, while everybody else can only win one? The flip side is just as frequent: When a pitcher has a dominant season, some writers refuse to vote for a pitcher; that’s what happened to Pedro Martinez in 1999, when two writers left him off their MVP ballots entirely. The BBWAA can resolve the issue pretty easily—by rendering pitchers ineligible for the MVP Award—but for some reason, they haven’t.)

After Newcombe won, his career pretty much fell apart, making him the first victim of the so-called Cy Young Jinx. Supposedly, the Jinx strikes pitchers the year after they win, and a cursory look at the record gives that theory some credence. Some infamous Jinx victims include Bob Turley, Mike Marshall, Steve Stone, Pete Vuckovich, LaMarr Hoyt, and John Denny. However, superstitions aside, it’s pretty easy to figure out why the Jinx struck these guys: they were above-average pitchers who had one great season that was good enough to win them the award. It’s hard enough to have a good season, let alone a great season, and it’s unfair to expect these pitchers to have consecutive great seasons.

Pitchers like Sandy Koufax, Steve Carlton, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson—all multiple award winners—were (or are) legitimately great pitchers from whom great seasons are expected. The Cy Young Jinx is, in fact, simply a matter of a pitcher returning to his old self.

Back to the award history: At commissioner Frick’s insistence, the first 11 awards were given to the best pitcher in both leagues. When he retired, the award was changed to honor one pitcher in each league, which is how we have it today; it never did make sense to have Koufax compete with Whitey Ford, but most of what Frick did made no sense, so we shouldn’t be surprised.

At first, the voting structure was kind of screwed up: one writer in each major league city placed a single name on the ballot, and the pitcher who got the most votes won. MVP Award voting, on the other hand, features a weighted ballot on which writers place 10 names in descending order. In 1969, the screwed-up voting system victimized the BBWAA when Mike Cuellar and Denny McLain tied for the award with 10 votes apiece. After that, the voting changed to an MVP-like weighted system—voters placing three names on their ballots with five points going to the first-place pitcher, three to second place, and one to third place. That’s how it is today, and it’s a good system.

Here's a list of multiple award winners (H/T Baseball-Reference.com:

7 - Roger Clemens
5 - Randy Johnson
4 - Steve Carlton
4 - Greg Maddux
3 - Sandy Koufax
3 - Pedro Martinez
3 - Jim Palmer
3 - Tom Seaver
2 - Bob Gibson
2 - Tom Glavine
2 - Denny McLain
2 - Gaylord Perry
2 - Bret Saberhagen
2 - Johan Santana

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Young Cy Young

Yesterday, Tim Lincecum of the Giants won the NL Cy Young Award. Lincecum is just a baby, only 24 years old. I thought it would be good to take a look at other Cy Young winners who were age 24 and younger, to try and get a sense for what's in store for Lincecum. It's a mixed bag, but things do look bright:

1964 - Dean Chance (age 24): Chance beat out Sandy Koufax, having an "off" season (only 19 wins). Chance had four more good seasons before ineffectiveness (and possibly injury due to overwork?) ended his career at 30. Final record: 128-115

1968 (AL) - Denny McLain (24): The poster child for talent wasted. McLain won 31 games in 1968 and 24 more in 1969 before he pissed away his career. He had some arm problems (not his fault), but got caught up in gambling and bookmaking scandals, was suspended, and never recovered his form. He ended up in jail for a while. I don't think Tim Lincecum has to worry about becoming another Denny McLain.

1969 (NL) - Tom Seaver (24): There's nothing about Seaver I can say that you probably don't already know. He's one of the 10 best pitchers of all time.

1971 (AL) - Vida Blue (21): Blue dominated the league in 1971, suffered an injury the next season, and continued to pitch well up until the age of 30. Then he got caught up in drugs and spent time in jail. He was on a Hall of Fame track until age 30. Sad.

1981 (NL) - Fernando Valenzuela (20): Fernandomania! The Dodgers overworked his arm and he was basically finished at age 26 (though he hung on as best he could for another decade). With some babying, he might have won 250 games. Instead, he won 173.

1985 (NL) - Dwight Gooden (20): Boy he was fun to watch that season. Most curveballs are nicknamed "Uncle Charlie." Gooden's was called "Lord Charles." And his fastball was a sight to behold. You know the story about Gooden: he didn't take care of his arm, and he got caught up in drugs. A near-deadly combination.

1985 (AL) - Bret Saberhagen (21): Overuse killed his arm. He pitched 1,329 innings before the age of 26. And that's pretty much all she wrote. But he did lead the Royals to their only World Series victory, so at least Kansas City got that out of him.

1986, 1987 (AL) - Roger Clemens (23, 24): No problems here. The greatest pitcher of his generation. Somehow he survived early arm trouble (surgery at age 22) and tons of innings of work and still managed to win over 350 games.

2002 (AL) - Barry Zito (24): A cautionary tale. He just lost his stuff. Not due to arm trouble or overwork or anything. It just seems to have disappeared.

Summing it all up, this is a very distinguished list of pitchers. Chance and Zito never quite matched their early promise, and Saberhagen and Gooden suffered from serious injuries. But most of the rest of the pitchers had excellent careers.

A lot depends on Lincecum's arm and whether it can withstand the heavy use. We may find out next year, because that's often when injuries manifest themselves. But the examples of Seaver, Clemens, and even Vida Blue show that early success doesn't have to lead to injury or ineffectiveness. Considering the Giants have little to no chance of winning anytime soon, they'll have even less incentive to push Lincecum too far. Let's hope they're smart about it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Congratulations, Tim Lincecum

As you probably heard, Tim Lincecum won the Cy Young Award today. Good for him, the only bright spot on a really poor Giants team.

Lincecum is only 24, making him one of the youngest winners of the award. Tomorrow I'm going to do a piece examining what happened to the other winners who were his age and younger. On preliminary analysis, a mixed bag. More tomorrow.

RIP Herb Score

Sad news out of Cleveland today:

Herb Score, the Cleveland Indians pitcher and former broadcaster whose promise on the mound was shattered by a line drive, died Tuesday. He was 75.

For two seasons in mid-1950s, Score was among the top pitchers in baseball, a left-handed fireballer who led the American League in strikeouts his first two years while winning 16 and 20 games with the Indians.

But in early 1957, a line drive off the bat of the Yankees’ Gil McDougald changed everything. It struck Score in the face and ended his season after only five games. He tried pitching again the following year, but lasted only 12 ineffective games. And though he hung on until 1962, the promising talent of his first two seasons appeared only in brief flashes.

After retirement, he remained in the game by working as Cleveland’s play-by-play broadcaster from 1964 - 1997.*

Goodbye, Herb.

*Updated: The original post indicated that Score worked as play-by-play announcer until this year. I discovered that he actually retired from p-b-p duties in 1997. I regret the error.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thoughts on the Series

- Congratulations, Phillies and Philly fans. It's been 28 years since your last championship, so you're right on schedule.

The history books will list this as a 4-1 victory, which looks like a blowout, but the series was anything but. Four of the games were decided by 2 runs or less, three by only one run. These were two evenly matched teams, and it could have gone seven games with just a few breaks.

- My Phillies phan phriend Kevin was very upset that umpires and the commissioner waited until after the Rays tied the score in game 4 before suspending it. If it had been a regular season game, they would have suspended it after the 5th inning, when the game became official, which would have given the game and the series to the Phillies. But I think it would have been a travesty to end the World Series with a rain-shortened game, so I think they ultimately made the right choice. It would have been really interesting to know what Selig would have done had the Rays not tied it. Lucky for him, they did, and also lucky for him, the Phils went on to win the game anyway. It was the best possible outcome for Selig in terms of saving face. (Whether his face deserves saving is another matter. I would prefer never to see his face again.)

- That wild pitch/error play in the ninth inning of game three (which led to the famous five-man infield) was clearly the turning point of the series. With the Phils at home, they still would have had the edge in winning the game, but the Rays basically giftwrapped it for them. If the Rays had won game 3, they would have had a 2-1 series lead and who knows what would have happened.

- The biggest disappointment of the series was the play of Scott Kazmir. He was the AL's strikeout leader last year, but this year he started the season on the DL and I don't think he ever fully recovered from his injury. He was inconsistent throughout the season, and in the playoffs, he just didn't have his best stuff. He was wild and threw a lot of pitches in his two short outings. I'm sure he's wishing for a mulligan.

- Cole Hamels is only 24 years old and already a World Series MVP. He played the role of Josh Beckett this year. He pitched a lot of innings this season, so the question remains whether he can avoid the injuries that seem to affect every young pitcher these days.

- The 2002 draft, which produced both Hamels and Kazmir, is looking pretty amazing right now. Among the other players drafted in the first round were B.J. Upton, Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke, Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, and Matt Cain. (This was the famous Moneyball draft, but all the A's got out of it really were Swisher and Blanton; none of their other picks really amounted to much.*)
*They also drafted Jonathan Papelbon in the 40th round but didn't sign him.

- The Phillies will have a much easier time repeating in the NL East than the Rays will in the AL East.
That's about all I have for now about the 2008 season. Upcoming posts in the blog will include book reviews and history lessons to help us pass the time until pitchers and catchers report in early February.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Update on 5-man infield

My most loyal reader (Dad) alerted me to an article in the New York Times about Rays' manager Joe Maddon's use of the five-man infield. Money quote:

The Rays have already tried it twice this season, Zobrist said, against the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 9 and the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 24. Zobrist was the fifth infielder in Seattle, posted behind second base. The strategy paid off, and the Rays used a double play to end the 10th before winning in the 11th.

That's the kind of info it would have been nice for Tim McCarver to mention during the broadcast. Sure, you can't expect him to know everything about every strategy used by the Rays during the season. But he's been in baseball for 50 years--50 years! Did he ever see the strategy employed in any game he's ever seen? He didn't say a thing about that.

Anyway, I have to say that I've never seen the strategy in action, and I love watching something I've never seen before. It reminds me of the famous moment about 10 years ago when the Diamondbacks, nursing a 2-run lead, walked Barry Bonds with the bases loaded to bring home a run. I was watching that live and I remember shouting at the TV, "Wow! WOW!" In that particular case, it was an event that hadn't happened since the 1940s, and though I didn't know that history, I really felt I was witnessing history in the making.

Same with Saturday night's event. I hope something similar happens at least one more time this World Series.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Walk-off hits in the World Series

I just finished watching the Phils beat the Rays in Game 3 of the Series. Lucky, for me I live on the west coast, where it was only 10:48 when the game ended. Gotta hand it to the Phils fans for sticking it out. I didn't see an empty seat in the house. (Insert cheap Los Angeles Dodgers fans joke here.)

A couple of observations:

- I've never seen a five-man infield, and I got the sense that Tim McCarver hadn't either. He's such a useless analyst that he never even bothered to analyze the tactic. The most he could muster was that he had never seen the maneuver in the World Series before. Well what about a regular-season game, Tim? Could you maybe talk about the pros and cons? No? Well then what good are you?

- That had to be the cheapest walk-off hit in the history of the World Series. Carlos Ruiz barely got his bat on that ball.

The final play got me wondering about how often World Series games end on walk-off plays. I actually did some research into this a few months ago for a book project I was working on, but walk-off plays are more common than you think in the post-season. We all remember Kirk Gibson, Bill Mazeroski, Joe Carter, Luis Gonzalez...

But do you remember Jose Vizcaino of the Yankees singling off Turk Wendell to win Game One of the 2000 World Series? Or Alex Gonzales homering off Jeff Weaver to win Game Four for Florida over New York in 2003?

I didn't, until I checked out Baseball-Reference.com's amazing Play Index. You can do a search for a bunch of different criteria, but they have a handy link that displays all 103 Walk-Off Hits in Post-Season Play (now 104).

In case you're too lazy to click the link, the all-time leader in career walk-off plays in the post-season is... David Ortiz, with 3. And the greatest post-season in history (based on the number of walk-off plays) was 2004.

Welcome to the club, Carlos Ruiz.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Is Game 1 a must-win game?

Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus blogged today about the relative importance of Game 1 toward winning a World Series. He writes:

Winning the first game of a World Series is a strong indicator of future success. The last five World Series have been won by the Game One victor, and all-time, the winner of the first game is 63-40 in the Series.

But is it more important to win Game 2 than Game 1? Let's take a look at the World Series since 1980:

1980: Game 1 winner-Phillies; Game 2 winner-Phillies; World Series winner-Phillies
1981: Game 1 winner-Yankees; Game 2 winner-Yankees; World Series winner-Dodgers
1982: Game 1 winner-Brewers; Game 2 winner-Cardinals; World Series winner-Cardinals
1983: Game 1 winner-Phillies; Game 2 winner-Orioles; World Series winner-Orioles
1984: Game 1 winner-Tigers; Game 2 winner-Padres; World Series winner-Tigers
1985: Game 1 winner-Cardinals; Game 2 winner-Cardinals; World Series winner-Royals
1986: Game 1 winner-Red Sox; Game 2 winner-Red Sox; World Series winner-Mets
1987: Game 1 winner-Twins; Game 2 winner-Twins; World Series winner-Twins
1988: Game 1 winner-Dodgers; Game 2 winner-Dodgers; World Series winner-Dodgers
1989: Game 1 winner-A's; Game 2 winner-A's; World Series winner-A's
1990: Game 1 winner-Reds; Game 2 winner-Reds; World Series winner-Reds
1991: Game 1 winner-Twins; Game 2 winner-Twins; World Series winner-Twins
1992: Game 1 winner-Braves; Game 2 winner-Blue Jays; World Series winner-Blue Jays
1993: Game 1 winner-Blue Jays; Game 2 winner-Phillies; World Series winner-Blue Jays
1995: Game 1 winner-Braves; Game 2 winner-Braves; World Series winner-Braves
1996: Game 1 winner-Braves; Game 2 winner-Braves; World Series winner-Yankees
1997: Game 1 winner-Marlins; Game 2 winner-Indians; World Series winner-Marlins
1998: Game 1 winner-Yankees; Game 2 winner-Yankees; World Series winner-Yankees
1999: Game 1 winner-Yankees; Game 2 winner-Yankees; World Series winner-Yankees
2000: Game 1 winner-Yankees; Game 2 winner-Yankees; World Series winner-Yankees
2001: Game 1 winner-DBacks; Game 2 winner-DBacks; World Series winner-DBacks
2002: Game 1 winner-Giants; Game 2 winner-Angels; World Series winner-Angels
2003: Game 1 winner-Marlins; Game 2 winner-Yankees; World Series winner-Marlins
2004: Game 1 winner-Red Sox; Game 2 winner-Red Sox; World Series winner-Red Sox
2005: Game 1 winner-White Sox; Game 2 winner-White Sox; World Series winner-White Sox
2006: Game 1 winner-Cardinals; Game 2 winner-Tigers; World Series winner-Cardinals
2007: Game 1 winner-Red Sox; Game 2 winner-Red Sox; World Series winner-Red Sox

OK, we have a lot of data here. Here are the World Series records of each winner:

Winner of Game 1: 19 wins, 8 losses
Winner of Game 2: 18 wins, 9 losses

That tells me that it's just about as important to win Game 2 as it is to win Game 1.

Let's delve a little deeper.

How often does the team that loses Game 1 but wins Game 2 win the Series?

Not very often. Those teams have a record of 3 wins, 6 losses (the winners being the '82 Cardinals, '83 Orioles, and '02 Angels)

How often does the team that wins Game 1 but loses Game 2 go on to win the Series?

About even. Those teams have a record of 5 wins, 4 losses (the winners being the '84 Tigers, '93 Blue Jays, '97 Marlins, '03 Marlins, and '06 Cardinals).

I could go on, analyzing home field advantage, quality of starting pitchers, and so on. But unfortunately, all we're going to discover is that, in a seven-game series, EVERY game is important. It's better to win than to lose.

Sorry the conclusion isn't more enlightening than that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Did the Rays buck destiny by winning Game 7?

Did the Tampa Bay Rays' victory over the Red Sox last night in Game 7 buck history and destiny? As King Kaufman pointed out in his column today, teams that come back after a 3-1 deficit to force a Game 7 usually win the deciding game of the series:

Such teams were 11-3 in seventh games before Sunday and they'd won five straight. The last team that failed to complete the three-game comeback had been the 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates, who lost the N.L. Championship Series to Atlanta on Sid Bream's dash. Before that you have to go back to Cincinnati in the 1972 World Series to find a team that won Games 5 and 6 only to lose Game 7.

However, if you look at the bigger picture, it's not so clear cut. Here's the bigger picture: Do teams that win Game 6 (to force a Game 7) usually also win Game 7? Another way of putting it is, is there momentum in baseball?

Let's first take a look at the World Series.

Number of seven-game World Series: 36
Number of times the Game 6 winner also won Game 7: 18

Now let's take a look at 7-game League Championship Series (since 1985):

Number of seven-game LCS: 14
Number of times the Game 6 winner also won Game 7: 8

To summarize, out of fifty post-season series that went seven full games, the winner of Game 6 basically split its record in Game 7. (I could also go back and look at the Division Series and the LCS before it expanded to seven games, but I suspect the results will be similar.)

Bottom line: Acknowledging that the small sample size may be an issue, there is NO EVIDENCE of momentum when it comes to post-season baseball. What there is evidence of is this: post-season series that go the distance usually feature evenly matched teams, and when two evenly matched teams split the first six games, then the seventh game usually is decided by luck or home field advantage or some element other than "momentum."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Best Ever: Los Angeles Dodgers

Continuing my long running series on the greatest ever position player and pitcher for every franchise, today I'd like to take a look at one of the remaining playoff teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers. (Truly dedicated readers--that means you, Dad--will remember that I've already profiled other playoff teams, including the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs.)

I'm going to split the Dodgers into the Los Angeles period and the Brooklyn period. Today we'll take on the L.A. Dodgers.


Contenders: Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton. (Apologies to Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser.)

This one isn't as obvious as it seems. The obvious choice is Sandy Koufax, who dominated baseball from 1962 to 1966 and led the Dodgers to three pennants and two World Series. The thing about Koufax is, he was tough. He pitched in immense pain, he often would pitch on short rest, he pitched tons of innings, his team almost never scored runs for him, yet he still pitched brilliantly and won more games than anyone during his heyday. He finished his career with 165 Dodger wins.

Don Sutton and Don Drysdale, by contrast, weren't as dominant as Koufax, but they had much longer careers. Sutton won 233 games with the Dodgers (324 total), while Drysdale won 209. Those differences compared to Koufax aren't trivial. 68 victories (vs. Sutton) and 44 (vs. Drysdale) are very meaningful indicators of greatness, and a case could be made that, because of his longer career and greater durability, Sutton, not Koufax, was the greatest pitcher in Dodger history.

However, I'm not prepared to make that case. I'm going to stick with the obvious choice, Koufax, because of his peak value, his clutch performances (especially in the 1963 and 1965 World Series and in the 1965 and 1966 pennant races), and his absolute dominance for five+ years.


Contenders: Steve Garvey, Mike Piazza, Maury Wills

If Piazza had played with the Dodgers more than six years, he would be the clear choice as the greatest position player in L.A. Dodgers history. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons that, even 10 years later, don't make much sense, the Dodgers shipped him to Florida and thus traded away the greatest hitting catcher of all time. He spent more time as a Met than as a Dodger, and I think when I do this for the Mets, I'll probably pick Mike Piazza as the greatest Met ever. I don't want to choose him for two teams, so I'm going to leave him with the Mets.

That leaves Garvey and Wills. (Full disclosure: Garvey was my favorite player when I was a kid. In Little League, I chose number 6, and I imitated his batting stance. As an adult, I saw him in the Salt Lake City airport and was too nervous to approach him.) Garvey was a hitting machine. From 1974 to 1980, he averaged over 200 hits per year and slugged 20-30 home runs to boot. He almost never got hurt, putting together a consecutive games streak that reached 1,207. He didn't walk much, so his sabermetric numbers don't look so hot today, but during his prime, he was pretty much feared and respected by everybody. In fact, I would guess that most contemporary observers would have expected him to make the Hall of Fame by now. He's not, of course, and I don't think he deserves induction. He just misses the cut.

Maury Wills is another player who has missed the cut for the Hall of Fame. He's an interesting player. He helped reintroduce stolen bases to baseball when he nabbed 104 in the 1962 season, an unheard-of number at the time. Though he didn't play full time until the age of 27, he still amassed 2,134 hits (1,732 for L.A.). The negatives: his on-base percentages were atrocious. In spite of all the steals and hits, he only scored 100 runs in a season twice... partly because his Dodger teammates weren't very good at driving him in, mostly because his best on-base percentage was .355, not good for a lead-off hitter. He was pretty good defensively, winning two Gold Gloves, but nobody ever hailed his defense.

The winner: Since it comes down to Garvey and Wills in my book, it's an easy choice to select Steve Garvey as the greatest position player in L.A. Dodgers history.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Blog vacation is over

Sorry for the blog vacation last week. I took the family to Disneyland and Legoland, which means I missed most of the baseball games last week. However, I did watch the last two Sox-Angels games. Those were tense, hard-fought games, and I hope the Rays-Red Sox series at least matches the tension.

It is unimaginably great for the baseball fan in me to see the Rays in the post-season and the Yankees watching from home -- though New York fans and many casual fans would disagree. I mentioned to my wife that there was a possibility that the World Series would feature the Rays and Brewers, and she wondered why anybody would even bother.

Even though TV ratings would stink if the Rays beat the Sox, it's still great for the game when a team can come back from last place in the toughest division in baseball to win at least a share of the pennant. It (temporarily) shuts up all the whiners who claim that their teams "can't compete against the big-money franchises" because they don't have a huge TV deal or they don't have a new stadium.

Not that people will ever stop whining. And guess what? It's going to get worse. With the new Yankee Stadium, the Bombers are going to rake in even more revenue and buy up even more free agents. It's going to make them competitive for at least a generation. But as we saw this year, it doesn't guarantee anything. The Yanks haven't won the World Series since 2000.

As a fan, I lean toward the Red Sox and Dodgers, mainly because of the history and tradition of the two franchises. (They met in the 1916 World Series, when Babe Ruth helped pitch the Sox to its second consecutive championship.) Yet if it's the Rays-Phillies, it could help usher in a new era of parity -- or, at least, perceived parity -- in which more teams, as long as they have smart decision-makers, can compete. That's good for the game.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

100 Years Ago Today: Merkle's Boner

The headline says it all: On Sept. 23, 1908, New York Giants first baseman Fred Merkle committed the most celebrated gaffe in the history of baseball affecting one of the greatest pennant races of all time.

The Pirates, Cubs, and Giants were neck-and-neck-and-neck throughout most of the season, leading up to the September 23 game between New York and Chicago at the Polo Grounds. With the score tied 1–1 and darkness falling in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants had runners on first and third with two out. Shortstop Al Bridwell singled to center to score what everybody thought was the winning run. Believing the game was over and trying to avoid the onslaught of screaming fans onto the field, the runner on first—poor Fred Merkle—ran straight to the dugout without touching second base, a common practice in those days.

Alert Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers, who knew the rule book, retrieved a ball (though it probably wasn’t the actual game ball, which was lost in the melee of swarming fans), got the attention of umpire Hank O’Day, and tagged second base. O’Day ruled Merkle out on the force play, but because it was dark and the field was overrun with fans, the game was called a tie.

The Giants protested the decision, and NL president Harry Pulliam ruled that the game would be replayed at the end of the season if it affected the pennant race.

It did. The two teams met again in the final game of the season in an epic battle between Christy Mathewson of the Giants and Chicago’s “Three-Finger” Brown, won by the Cubs 4–2.

For the rest of his playing days, Merkle would be reminded of his bonehead play and accused by ignorant fans of blowing the pennant for the Giants. In fact, Merkle was simply following baseball tradition, and Giants manager John McGraw never blamed Merkle. What most fans didn’t (and don’t) know was that Evers had tried to capitalize on the same kind of blunder in an earlier game, but umpire O’Day had disallowed his protest; when it came up again, O’Day was ready to rule on the technicality.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Goodbye Yankee Stadium

As you may have heard (assuming you read ESPN, SI, TSN, or just about any other sports-related magazine, website, or blog), old Yankee Stadium hosted its last game yesterday. The Yanks beat the Orioles 7-3 in an apparently emotional farewell. Everybody's doing their tributes to Yankee Stadium, and if I don't, I'll be kicked out of the baseball bloggers union. So here goes.

Some random (negative) thoughts about Yankee Stadium:

- The fact that there will be no post-season baseball this year in The Bronx is further proof that there are no "baseball gods." If there were, and if They were Yankee fans (why wouldn't They be, after all those championships?), then the last game at Yankee Stadium this year would have featured Mariano Rivera shutting down some hapless NL opponent in game four or game seven of the World Series. But alas, the Tampa Bay Rays ruined everything by actually being good this season. Sorry, Steinbrenner family.

- In fact, the last World Series game in Yankee Stadium history came in game six of the 2003 series, when Josh Beckett shut out the Yanks on five hits to clinch Florida's unexpected championship.

- The last playoff game in Yankee Stadium was an equally ignominious loss for New York in 2007 against the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series.

- The last important game against the archrival Red Sox in Yankee Stadium was game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, when New York completed the greatest collapse in American sports history by losing 10-3. (Of course, you remember that the New Yorkers became the first club to lose a series after leading 3 games to 0.)

Yes, yes, I'm focusing on the bad stuff. Sorry about that. My anti-Yankee sentiment is rising to the surface. For about the first 80 years of its history, pretty much only good stuff (for the Yankees) happened at the Stadium. All those championships, all the times they demolished Boston or the Dodgers or any other club that tried to knock the club off its throne. All the great players who patrolled its environs: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Jackson, and so on.

It's sad to see such a vital piece of baseball history tossed aside. On the other hand, the place was old, and the march of progress requires replacing old with new.

Goodbye, old Yankee Stadium.

Hello, new Yankee Stadium.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Veterans Committee Ballot

A few weeks ago, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced finalists for consideration by the Veterans Committee. I covered each finalist ad nauseam here, here, here, here, and here.

That ballot covers players and managers of the pre-1942 period. This week, they announced a similar list for the post-1942 era.

Here's who made the cut: Dick Allen, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Al Oliver, Vada Pinson, Ron Santo, Luis Tiant, Joe Torre and Maury Wills.

I could milk this news for about 2 weeks worth of blog posts, but Joe Posnanski today did a great evaluation of each candidate, and honestly I don't have much to add.

My bottom-line take on each candidate is this:

Dick Allen: Great player, too short a career. No.
Gil Hodges: Borderline case, but no.
Jim Kaat: Yes, I would vote for him.
Tony Oliva: No.
Al Oliver: Definitely not.
Vada Pinson: No.
Ron Santo: Yes. He's probably the best eligible player not currently in the Hall.
Luis Tiant: No.
Joe Torre: Pretty much a lock to get in. I would probably vote for him.
Maury Wills: No.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

HOF: Deacon White


That's what most baseball fans are probably saying when the name Deacon White is brought up in relation to possible Hall of Fame induction. Here's what I wrote about Deacon White in the first edition of "The Book of Baseball Literacy":

A remarkable player and man, White was one of professional baseball’s first great stars. He could play anywhere in the field, and he could hit—twice leading his league in batting and three times in RBIs. Respected and admired by just about everybody, White earned his nickname because he reputedly never smoked, drank, caroused, or cursed, and he carried his Bible on road trips.

A visionary, he was among the first players to complain about their shoddy treatment by owners; he threatened to test the reserve clause in the courts, and he helped in the Players League revolt of 1890.

When White was sold from Buffalo to Pittsburgh, he refused to report unless he received some payment; Pittsburgh ownership relented and handed over about $1,500. In explaining his bold action, White spoke for all ballplayers who have ever been treated like property: “No man can sell my carcass,” he declared, “unless I get at least half.”

He was clearly a very interesting person and player. I had a lot of admiration for him until I read this quote on White's Wikipedia page:

According to Lee Allen in The National League Story (1961), White was one of the last people to believe that the earth is flat. He tried and failed to convince his teammates that they were living on a flat plane and not a globe; they ridiculed him. Then one asked to be convinced, and the Deacon gave him an argument suited to the hypothesis that the earth is not really turning. He convinced the teammate but the argument would not prove that the earth is not a sphere.


Anyway, the question is, does he belong in the Hall of Fame alongside the other great players of his era: John Montgomery Ward, Cap Anson (I know, I know, Anson was a despicable human being who helped solidify the color line, but, first, he wasn't the only person responsible, and second, he was a great baseball player), Harry and George Wright, and so on?

I say no. He's an interesting player, a very good player, but he wasn't necessarily the best player of his era, and he's not the best eligible player not currently in the Hall. Back in the 1940s, when men who saw baseball during White's era were still alive, White wasn't selected for the Hall. Why is he more worthy now, in 2008, when he wasn't worthy in 1948 or 1939?

Monday, September 8, 2008

HOF: Carl Mays?

Carl Mays is another of the short-list candidates for the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee. They're going to decide this fall whether he should be inducted posthumously for baseball's ultimate honor.

A lot of people, including the pitcher himself, have said that if it were not for a fateful afternoon in 1920, Mays would be in the Hall of Fame. He was an outstanding pitcher, a five-time 20-game winner who ranked among the league’s best pitchers for much of his career, mostly with the Red Sox and Yankees. However, he will always be remembered for one thing: throwing the underhand fastball—not a spitball, as some have suggested—that killed Indians shortstop Ray Chapman.

But that’s not the only reason he’s not in the Hall of Fame. Fred Lieb, a former member of the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee, said that during discussions of Mays, the Chapman incident never came up. What actually kept him out were the allegations—never proven but convincing to many—that Mays threw a game in the 1921 World Series.

In all, the picture of Mays is not a pretty one. He was a bitter, resentful man who was already one of the least-liked players in the league before the Chapman incident, who angered managers and teammates with a troublemaker attitude that probably curtailed his career, and who, sadly, wished he could make the world forget that one of his pitches accidentally killed a fellow major leaguer.

The fact that the Veterans Committee is re-evaluating Mays after previously rejecting him is curious. Even though he had a number of very good years, he finished with only 207 career victories, very low on the HOF spectrum. Bert Blyleven won 287 games during a time of 5-man rotations, yet he has fallen short. There's no way that Mays belongs in while Blyleven (and others) are shut out.

Friday, September 5, 2008

More HOF evaluations

Continuing the discussion of Hall of Fame candidates currently being considered by the Veterans Committee... I've talked at length about Joe Gordon and Vern Stephens. Those are two borderline candidates: I support Gordon's inclusion and reject Stephens. Today I'll quickly cover some of the other guys:

Wes Ferrell: A six-time 20-game winner with the Indians and Red Sox. If selected, Wes would join his brother Rick in the Hall, the only brother combination that I can think of. However, there's no way that Wes belongs (it's questionable that Rick belongs, but that's another matter). Wes was a great pitcher in his 20s, winning 190 games from age 21 to 30 with a .600 winning percentage. In 1938, however, according to Wikipedia, he suffered an arm injury that required surgery, and he never pitched effectively again. Like a lot of players from the era before modern medicine, a Wes Ferrell of today would probably have taken a year off to rehab his arm and pitched another 8 years, ensuring his selection to the Hall. But unfortunately for him, he didn't. Based on his actual career (not his hypothetical career), he does not belong in the Hall of Fame.

Sherry Magee: A very good dead-ball era hitter, Magee posted big numbers from 1905 through 1918. He didn't hit a lot of homers because no one did in that era, but he had excellent power for his time. His OPS+ is 136, meaning he was 36% better than the league average even after adjusting for park effects (which, in Magee's case, is important since he played in the Baker Bowl). The only problem with Magee is longevity. He finished his career with 2,169 hits, which would be on the very low end of the HOF spectrum. Three or four more good years -- especially with the lively ball era just around the corner -- would have given him a key to the Hall, but the reality is that he just doesn't belong.

Mickey Vernon: A good hitter for a long time with the lowly Washington Senators. He never posted huge numbers, partly because of his home ballpark, which was terrible for hitters. His career stats are good, but not great: 2495 hits, 116 OPS+. The problem with letting in Mickey Vernon is that it sets the bar for Hall of Fame entry so low that you'll have to let in a bunch of other good but not great first basemen: Steve Garvey, Norm Cash, Mark Grace, Al Oliver, Bill Buckner... The line has to be drawn somewhere, and I draw it at Mickey Vernon. No to him.

Bucky Walters: A pretty good pitcher in the 1930s and 1940s. Much less qualified than Wes Ferrell, in my opinion. If you think Dave Stieb belongs in the Hall of Fame, then you might think Walters does, too. I don't think either belong, unfortunately.

In a future post (probably next week), I'll take on the case of Carl Mays, which is fascinating in its own right, and Deacon White.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Vern Stephens

Yesterday I talked about Joe Gordon, who is on the short list for Hall of Fame induction by the Veterans Committee. Today I'll take on the case of Vern Stephens.

Vern Stephens

When I first became aware of Vern Stephens, I was shocked that I hadn't heard of him before. He doesn't appear in many history books, but his statistics are eye-popping. I invite you to visit his page on Baseball-Reference.com for a taste. If you thought Ernie Banks was the first slugging shortstop, you've completely missed out on Vern "Junior" Stephens. From age 21 through 29, he was about as good as it gets: a middle infielder who hits for power, has a pretty good batting eye, and drives in runs. He took his talents to an entirely new level after being traded in November 1947 to the Red Sox, where he drove in 137, 159, and 144 runs his first three years in Boston.

Of course, there's a reason he could drive in that many runs: he had baseball's greatest on-base machine, Ted Williams, batting in front of him. In fact, in 1949, both Stephens and Williams drove in 159 runs (teammate Bobby Doerr picked up the scraps with 109 RBIs himself).

At that point, Stephens had built himself a Hall of Fame-caliber career. Then it all fell apart. According to a biographical article about Stephens by Mark Armour published in the SABR Bio Project, Stephens injured his knee in 1951 and never got healthy again. He was only 30 years old, and perhaps today with modern medicine, Stephens could have rehabbed his knee and gotten back to baseball. But alas, he didn't, and his career basically ended, though he hung on for a few futile years.

His life ended the same, sad way: In 1968, he suffered a heart attack while working a construction job and died. He was only 48.

The case for Stephens: He was a powerful hitter who played a key defensive position. He racked up big numbers in his 20s.

The case against Stephens: Injuries curtailed his production before he could post big career numbers. He finished with 247 home runs and 1,147 RBIs, not Hall of Fame-caliber.

My opinion: Not really a close call. Stephens is an interesting player, and if he had continued posting big numbers until age 35 or so, he might belong in the Hall. But he didn't, and he doesn't.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Joe Gordon

I've been a little slow to update the blog lately, but I'm back now.

Last week came news that the Baseball Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee was evaluating several potential members from the pre-war era: Allie Reynolds, Joe Gordon, Vern Stephens, Bill Dahlen, Wes Ferrell, Sherry Magee, Carl Mays, Mickey Vernon, Bucky Walters and Deacon White. There's a case to be made for and against each of them, and today I want to talk about Gordon. Does he belong?

Joe Gordon

Gordon played second base for the Yankees and Indians from 1938 through 1950, with a couple of years off while in the army during World War II. In his early years, he was a very good offensive player, good for 20-30 home runs and 100 RBIs per year with above average OBPs. Think Miguel Tejada. Like Tejada, Gordon even won an MVP award, though in all honesty, Gordon was not the best player on his team that year (Charlie Keller or Joe DiMaggio), let alone the league (Ted Williams).

Even after he returned from the war, Gordon continued as an excellent player. The Yankees didn't have any use for him, trading him to Cleveland, where he starred on the 1948 World Series champion team. For that one year at least, the middle infield tandem of Lou Boudreau and Joe Gordon ranks as possibly the greatest ever.

Gordon retired at age 35, even though he was still a good hitter; with the DH today, he probably would have played until 40. The final numbers don't seem all that great: 11 seasons, 1,530 hits, 253 home runs, 975 RBIs, .268/.357/.466. His career OPS+ is 120, which means he was about 20% better than average during his career. By comparison, Joe DiMaggio's career OPS+ is 155 and Ted Williams's is an eye-popping 191. (Tejada's is only 112.)

The case for Gordon: He was a very good hitter playing a tough defensive position. His career numbers are hurt by having to miss two prime years to military service. Give him back those years, and he finishes with about 300 home runs, close to 1,200 RBIs, and about 1,900 hits. He's better than some other second basemen in the Hall, such as Red Schoendienst and Bobby Doerr.

The case against Gordon: Even with that credit, his numbers still aren't worthy of the top-tier of the Hall of Fame. He's no Rogers Hornsby or Nap Lajoie, or even Roberto Alomar. He was a very good player on a lot of great teams. Just because he's better than a couple of other players already in the Hall doesn't necessarily make him worthy on his own.

My opinion: I'm coming around on Joe Gordon. I started out skeptical, but after doing the research, I do think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. If he were still alive to enjoy the honor, I would be rooting for him to make it. The fact that he died 30 years ago, however, dampens my enthusiasm quite a bit. At this stage, I don't really understand the necessity to induct people who can't appreciate the honor, but that's the way it works, I guess.

Ultimately, yes, I would vote for him if I could.

PS. Gordon has a claim to fame that will probably never be equaled: In 1960, while managing the Indians, he was involved the only trade of major-league managers ever when the Indians traded him to the Tigers for their manager, Jimmy Dykes

Monday, August 25, 2008

Next up for Hall of Fame

Sports Illustrated reports on the next steps for the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee:

Allie Reynolds, Joe Gordon and Vern Stephens are among 10 players whose careers began before 1943 who will be considered by the Hall of Fame's constituted Veterans Committee when it meets on Dec. 7.

Bill Dahlen, Wes Ferrell, Sherry Magee, Carl Mays, Mickey Vernon, Bucky Walters and Deacon White also will be on the ballot, the Hall said Monday. The 10 finalists were selected by a committee of the Baseball Writers' Association of America that considered pre-1943 players. A 12-member committee of Hall of Famers, media and historians will vote.

In the coming days, I'll address the relative credentials of each of these candidates. My initial take is that none of them are worthy of the Hall, but I need to consider them more closely before rendering the final decision. In particular, I want to look closer at Joe Gordon and Deacon White.

Stay tuned for my analysis this week.

Friday, August 22, 2008

On this date... Marichal vs. Roseboro

I almost let this day go by without talking about the infamous incident between Giants pitcher Juan Marichal and Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro, which happened on August 22, 1965.

The Dodgers and Giants began the day separated by just 1-1/2 games in the standings. The Giants were hosting the Dodgers in Candlestick Park, and the game promised to be a tense pitchers duel: Marichal (19-9) vs. Sandy Koufax (21-4). As the old cliche goes, these two teams just didn't like each other. In the bottom of the third, with the Dodgers leading 2-1, Marichal came to the plate to face Koufax. Earlier in the game, Marichal had knocked down two Dodger players. I'm going to let ESPN's page 2 tell the next part of the story:

"When Marichal came up to bat, I tried a knockdown from behind the plate, throwing the ball close to his nose when I returned it to the pitcher," recalled Roseboro. "I expected Marichal to attack me in some way. If he had said anything to me, I had studied karate, and I was ready to annihilate him."

The karate didn't help. When another of Roseboro's throws came too close to Marichal's ear, Marichal clubbed Roseboro on the head with his bat, opening up a two-inch gash that would require 14 stitches and starting a bench-clearing brawl that lasted 14 minutes. Marichal was handed an eight-game suspension and fined $1,750, a huge sum in those days.

Did the eight-game suspension hurt the Giants? The Giants went on to win that game to pull within a 1/2 game of the dodgers, but then they lost their next four games, including the August 26 game that would have been Marichal's next start. His next one after that would have been on August 31, which the Giants won. Marichal came back on September 2 and lost, 4-3. In the month of September overall, he went 4-4 with a 3.55 ERA, his second worst month of the season.

The Giants went on to lose the pennant to the Dodgers by 2 games, but that included a 14-game winning streak in September. Every loss they did suffer ended up very important to the Giants, so it's hard to blame the games Marichal missed for the loss of the pennant. The Dodgers pitching was just too strong to overcome.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Happy Birthday Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente, the great Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder, would have been 74 today. I was too young to see him play, but he was Puerto Rican and I am Puerto Rican, so I always felt a connection to him. I recently read David Maraniss's book Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero and came away with more admiration for the man.

Clemente possessed perhaps the best outfield arm of all time, but he also excelled at the plate, lashing line drives in droves on the way to four batting titles, 13 seasons over .300, and exactly 3,000 career hits. He won an MVP Award and helped his Pittsburgh Pirates to two World Series victories.

Most long-time fans can tell stories about the amazing things Clemente could do in the outfield, like throw out a runner at home from the warning track on one bounce, or gun a runner at third on the fly from the right-field corner. He was that good and that memorable.

During his career, he fought to help Latin ballplayers gain acceptance into the major league fraternity, but his dedication and valor didn’t end on the field: His death on New Year’s Eve 1972 occurred while he was aboard a mercy mission carrying supplies to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua.

One story from 1971 illustrates the way Clemente played the game—and lived his life. He was 37 years old and worn down by 17 seasons of bold and sometimes reckless outfield play. But on that day, he proved to 14,933 baseball fans at the Houston Astrodome what his teammates and his family already knew: that he was the kind of player who would run into a brick wall to help his team. It happened on August 27, as his Pittsburgh Pirates were coasting to their second straight division title. They played the first game of a three-game series in Houston and led 7-3 in the eighth inning. A right-handed hitter caught a pitch off the end of the bat and sent the ball high into the air, curling toward the right-field foul line, where a brick wall separated the field from the fans. Clemente was playing the hitter to pull the ball, in right-center, giving him a long run to make the out. He began to sprint madly. When the ball reached its peak and began its descent, Clemente seemed too far from it to make the catch.

A regular human being would have slowed down at that point, let the ball drop; no use risking a nasty confrontation with that brick wall. The ball would have been foul anyway—no harm done. But such was not Clemente’s style. He kept running after it, and the ball kept twisting toward the stands. Fans in the first dozen or so rows stood up to catch the souvenir, assuming that it would bounce on the hard turf and into the seats. Then they saw Clemente sprinting toward them, and they must have thought about that brick wall, and they must have realized that he wasn’t going to stop in time. Clemente himself certainly didn’t. He just kept running and running, his eyes fixed on the ball, his mind focused on one single effort: making the catch for out number three. He reached out and, two steps in front of the wall, made the catch. Then he braced himself for the impact. Smack! The wall didn’t give an inch. Clemente did. The force knocked him to the ground, but he never let go of the ball. He got up slowly and tossed the ball back toward the infield. The game went on.

Later in the clubhouse, a reporter asked him why he had taken the risk; why did he go after such a meaningless out? Clemente looked confused. He didn’t understand the question. The reporter explained: He could have hurt himself—was the catch really worth it? Why didn’t Clemente let the ball drop? Clemente paused. Then he answered simply, “I wanted to catch the ball.” And the reporters understood. Anybody who knew Clemente knew that there was only one way for him to do anything—the right way. The score of the game, the position of brick walls, the risk of injury—none of that made a difference. You dedicate yourself to something, you accept the responsibility, and you go all out. Always.

He once said, “I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give.” He is.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Remembering Skip Caray

Longtime Braves announcer Skip Caray died suddenly last week, and yesterday, the team held a memorial service.

I thought I'd join the action with my own memories of Caray. I came of age as a baseball fan in the 1980s when the only games you could watch regularly were Braves games on WTBS. I was always a Dodger fan, but I liked the Braves and, like millions of others, I was a big Dale Murphy fan. Skip Caray was the voice of the Braves at the time, and his distinctive voice carried me through countless summers.

I'm pretty sure Caray called the infamous July 4, 1985, game that lasted 19 innings and finally ended at 3:53AM. I remember watching that game early in the evening, turning it off, and then turning on the TV at about 11pm California time to discover that the game was still going. It was a wild one. In the 18th, with the Mets leading by a run and two outs, light-hitting Braves pitcher Rick Camp hit the most improbable home run of any career to tie it up and send it to the 19th, when the Braves finally lost. Amazingly, even though it was 4 in the morning, the Braves followed through with their promised fireworks show for the remaining 8,000 fans.

I don't remember Skip Caray's reactions to that game, but I do have a favorite Skip Caray moment. It came later, must have been in the 1990s. The visiting team was trailing with one out in the top of the ninth and a runner on first. After the game, WTBS would show an episode of The Andy Griffith Show or Roseanne or some other sitcom, and Caray was doing a promo for the show when the next batter came to the plate.

I swear on my life that Caray said something along the lines of, "And we'll be showing 'Roseanne' just as soon as [the batter] hits into a 6-4-3 double play."

The VERY NEXT PITCH, the batter hit a grounder to the shortstop.

Caray, ever the professional, simply said, "6-"

The shortstop flipped the ball to the second baseman....

Caray said, "4-"

...who threw it to first.


As I and millions of other fans sat giggling or shouting at home, Caray and his broadcasting partners remained absolutely quiet for a good 15 seconds until finally he announced the final score and totals. He made no mention of his lucky prediction at all.

It was a great moment, one I'll never forget.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Non-baseball post: Olympic swimming

Here's the question I have every four years during the Olympics: Why are there so many swimming medals? Michael Phelps is going for 8 gold medals, which is great for him, but why does he get that opportunity when a sprinter or cyclist or boxer or beach volleyball player only gets one or two shots?

I understand the distances. 50M, 100M, 200M, 400M, 1500M that all makes sense. I understand the relays. But why all the different strokes? Why the medleys?

In track, you have sprints and hurdles. But you don't have the gunny sack race. You don't have the crab walk. You don't have a relay when one person hops on his left leg, and the next guy hops on his right leg, and the last guy hops on two legs.

Yet in swimming you have freestyle (which makes perfect sense... it's the fastest stroke), and you have breaststroke, and butterfly, and backstroke. And then just for fun, you have the medley, when one person does each stroke. That makes no sense to me.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Trouble with the blog

I'm having some trouble with the blog, so some RSS newsfeed readers may have received my Cubs post twice.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Greatest Ever: Chicago Cubs

Sorry I've been away from the blog for a few days.

But I'm back now and it's time to renew my ongoing feature about the greatest position player and pitcher for each franchise. In the past, I've covered the Pirates, Cardinals, Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Boston Braves, Philadelphia A's, and Oakland A's.

Today, I'll take on everybody's favorite cursed team, the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are one of the oldest teams in baseball, having operated continuously since the National League's founding in 1876. In my feature, I'm focusing on post 1900 players because that's generally considered the dividing line between old baseball and the modern game. (It would take a whole separate post to explain that further.)

Anyway, here goes.


Contenders: Mordecai Brown, Ferguson Jenkins, Charley Root.

I was surprised to discover that Root is the Cubs' all-time leader in victories. He's most famous for giving up Babe Ruth's called shot home run in the 1932 World Series, but his career goes way beyond that moment. He was a solid pitcher for the Cubs from 1926 to 1937, usually good for about 15-20 victories per year during an era when the best pitchers were winning 20-25 per year. With modern relief pitching and 5-man rotation, I'd say it's the equivalent of winning 10-15 games today. Good but not great.

Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown* was one of the Cubs' pitching aces who led the team during their dynasty period of 1906 through 1908. He won 20+ games six years in a row (1906-1911), usually with excellent ERAs. His best year was 1908, when he won 29 games for the pennant-winning Cubs, including, by my calculations, four in the last nine days of the season. He finished his career with 188 victories as a Cub, 239 overall.

*Why "Three-Finger"? Glad you asked. Seems he lost his forefinger in a corn-grinder accident at the age of 7. He attributed his wicked curveball to the unnatural break caused by the mangled hand.

Ferguson Jenkins pitched 10 seasons with the Cubs (19 overall) and ranks fifth on the Cubs' all-time list with 163 wins. He won 20+ games six years in a row (sound familiar?) for teams that were good but not great. His ERA+ stat (which compares his ERAs to the league-average ERAs) are in the mid-100s, which means he was substantially better than the league. Jenkins was a great pitcher in a tough era.

The winner: It is a very close call between Brown and Jenkins, but I'm going to go with Brown for two reasons. First, he played on pennant-winners -- three of them -- and he was a key performer in each victory. Second, he was much better relative to his league than Jenkins was (based on the ERA+ scores; check out their pages at baseball-reference.com). If Jenkins had played with the Cubs a few more years and compiled better counting stats, then maybe he would claim the title, but I'm going to stick with Brown.


Contenders: Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Sammy Sosa (apologies to Cap Anson, who played in the 1800s)

Known for his sunny demeanor, Banks won two MVP awards as a shortstop, becoming the first MVP winner to play for a second-division team. He was a devastating offensive force in his younger days, but after injuring his knees, he became a slow, immobile first baseman. In fact, he logged more time at first base than at shortstop over the course of his career. From 1962 on, he was just an average first baseman with good but not great power.

Ryne Sandberg inherited the title of baseball's best second baseman from Joe Morgan in 1984 and kept it for almost a decade, when Roberto Alomar took over. Sandberg won the '84 MVP award and later became the first second baseman since Rogers Hornsby to lead the league in home runs. He also won nine Gold Glove awards. I have to acknowledge, however, that Sandberg's offensive totals were much helped by his home park, Wrigley Field. His OPS+ scores aren't that great.

Sammy Sosa is the only player to have three 60-home run seasons, yet in none of those years did he lead the league in that category. Amazing. (He did lead the league with 50 in 2000 and 49 in 2002.) At his peak from 1998 to 2002, he was practically unstoppable. He seems to be under a cloud of suspicion for using performance-enhancing drugs, but he never failed a drug test and he was not mentioned in the Mitchell Report. His career with the Cubs ended badly, but it shouldn't overshadow his contributions to the club.

The Winner: This is a tough one. Each player has his pros and cons, and each of them was helped to some degree by playing in Wrigley. If Banks had played shortstop his whole career, he would easily be number one. If Sosa's best years hadn't come at the height of the steroid era, then he would easily be number one.

I'm going to go with Banks, though. It comes down to this: If I were starting a team and could choose one of these players at their peak, I would choose the young Banks at shortstop hitting 47 home runs instead of the young Sosa in right field hitting 66.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The big baseball news

Have two future Hall of Famers ever been traded on the same day, the way Manny Ramirez and Ken Griffey Jr. were traded yesterday? I doubt it. There's a lot of great analysis of the trades out there, including from Salon's King Kaufman, Baseball-Intellect.com, Dodger Thoughts, and others.

I thought I'd look at the historical aspect. What truly great players--future Hall of Famers--were shipped off to new teams in mid-season? Here's what I've come up with (probably not a complete list, but a pretty big one):

Steve Carlton: Traded at the end of his career several times, mostly to non-contenders. He'd lost his effectiveness and was just barely hanging on.

Jimmie Foxx: Only 34 years old, Foxx's skills were shot. At 32, he'd hit 36 home runs. Two years later, he would hit 8 for two teams, the Red Sox and Cubs. The Sox were a second-place team when they released Foxx, and the Cubs picked him up off the waiver wire, probably in an attempt to boost attendance.

Rickey Henderson: He started the 1989 season as a Yankee, but that team was going nowhere while the A's were in the middle of a run of three straight pennants. The A's traded three non-stars for Henderson and went on to dominate the A.L. Henderson even won the 1990 A.L. MVP award. In 1993, the A's were descending, so they sent Henderson to the Blue Jays in a deadline deal. The Jays went on to win their second straight World Series with Henderson. He was traded again in mid-season in 1997 from the Padres to the Angels, but that deal had no impact on the pennant races.

Randy Johnson: In one of the great deadline day pickups, the Astros traded Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and a player to be named later for Johnson on July 31, 1998. Johnson, who had been unhappy in Seattle and pitched poorly for them, went on to post a 10-1 record for division-winning Houston.

Mark McGwire: In 1997, the A's weren't going anywhere and were looking to get something in return for McGwire, who was going to be a free agent after the season. They didn't get much from the Cardinals (Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews, and Blake Stein), and McGwire went on the following season to write his name in the history books.

Greg Maddux: On deadline day 2006, Maddux agreed to a trade from the going-nowhere Cubs to the contending Dodgers in exchange for slick-fielding shortstop Cesar Izturis. Izturis was a bust, and Maddux went on to post a 6-3 record for the Dodgers in the last two months of the season before departing as a free agent.

Willie Mays: According to Wikipedia, "In May 1972, the 41-year-old Mays was traded to the New York Mets for Charlie Williams and $50,000.[19] At the time, the Giants franchise was losing money. Owner Horace Stoneham could not guarantee Mays an income after retirement and the Mets offered Mays a position as a coach upon his retirement." Mays was pretty much finished as a player, and he popped just 14 home runs as a Met during his two seasons there. But he did get back to the World Series in 1973, so it worked out for him.

Willie McCovey: In 1976, the 38-year-old McCovey was coming off a decent season in which he slammed 23 home runs in 413 at bats for the Padres. But that season, he hit just 7 homers through August, and the Padres sold him to the A's, who didn't really need him to contend for the division championship. McCovey flopped in Oakland, going just 5 for 24, all singles, and the A's finished in 2nd place. After '76, McCovey signed as a free agent with the Giants, where he finished his Hall of Fame career.

Joe Medwick: Medwick was never a great player and doesn't really deserve his Hall of Fame plaque. He posted several good seasons in his 20s, but was washed up by 29. In June 1940, at 28, he was traded from the Cardinals to the Dodgers for a bunch of nobodies. When the Dodgers won the pennant the next season, Medwick was a solid contributor but not the star of the team, and after that he pretty much fell apart as a player.

Eddie Murray: In 1996, the 40-year-old Murray still had some gas left in the tank when, in mid-July, he was traded by the Indians to the Orioles for Kent Mercker. It was a homecoming for Murray, and the Orioles eventually won a Wild Card berth. As DH, though, Murray didn't contribute more than an average player would have: .257/.327/.439 with 10 home runs.

Mike Piazza: You probably remember this one: One day in 1998, the Dodgers traded Piazza to the Marlins, who sent him to the Mets a week later. Why the Dodgers did it remains a mystery to me. They were afraid of losing him to free agency because they couldn't afford to pay him what he was worth? The Dodgers? Are you kidding me? As I recall, this was the first big deal of the post-Peter O'Malley era, when they were owned by News Corp (Fox). And it proved a harbinger of the mismanagement that would ensue over the next five or six years of Fox's ownership.

Curt Schilling: In July 2000, the Diamondbacks picked up Schilling for Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, Travis Lee, and Vicente Padilla. Schilling went just 5-6 for the D-backs, who finished a distant third. But the following season, Schilling pitched Arizona to a thrilling World Series victory over the Yankees. The other guys didn't amount to much.

Tom Seaver: On June 15, 1977, the Mets traded Tom Terrific, the greatest player in club history, to the Cincinnati Reds for Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, and Dan Norman. The Mets were a franchise in total decline, while the Reds were trying to catch the Dodgers. It didn't really work out for either team. The Mets continued declining and the Reds never caught the Dodgers. Lose/lose for everybody, especially Mets fans.

Dave Winfield: The moribund Yankees dealt Winfield to the Angels in May 1990 for pitcher Mike Witt. Witt didn't do much for the Yankees, who themselves didn't do much in the pennant race. Winfield played well enough that season and several more to make the Yankees regret their treatment of him.

Clearly, the best deadline-day pickup in history is Randy Johnson, but I think Manny Ramirez has the ability to make a run at that title.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hall of Fame: Walter O'Malley

Walter O'Mally was inducted into the Hall of Fame last weekend, so I thought it would be worthwhile to profile him for those who may not know his contribution to baseball.

A bankruptcy attorney by trade, he ran the trust that controlled the Dodgers in the 1940s, then purchased a stake in the club with co-owner Branch Rickey. O'Malley took over completely by 1952 after a power struggle forced out Rickey.

He soon became the most hated man in the history of Brooklyn when he airlifted the Dodgers from the New York borough to Los Angeles, a maneuver the Brooklyn faithful have never forgiven.

O’Malley was one of the first owners to recognize the potential of television, making the Dodgers perhaps the most watched team in America in the 1950s. He saw the untapped potential of the West Coast and convinced Giants owner Horace Stoneham to move their clubs to California with him. And he wielded tremendous influence over league officials during a time of a weakened commissioner’s office.

When he came to L. A., he demanded and received a sweet deal that included 300 acres of choice land just a few miles from downtown. There, he built Dodger Stadium using his own money—the better to make a profit from concessions and parking.

The biggest difference between O’Malley and most of the other owners was always the fact that O’Malley made his living from baseball while his brethren treated baseball as a hobby. This put O’Malley a step ahead at all times and helped him cement a huge legacy that included the once-profitable team that plays ball in front of three million paying fans every year.

After O’Malley’s death in 1979, control of the club shifted to his son Peter O’Malley, who continued at the helm until the sale of the club to News Corp. in 1997.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hall of Fame conspiracy?

The Nation published article you have to read about the snubbing of Marvin Miller from the Hall of Fame. It recounts Miller's rise and accomplishments as the leader of the players union, and it describes the outrageous machinations that not only kept him out of the Hall, but also led to the selections of two of Miller's most frequent adversaries: Bowie Kuhn and Walter O'Malley:

In 2007, the veterans committee failed to pick Miller again. This time, however, he received 63 percent, 12 percent short of the magic number. He was the only candidate to earn a majority of the votes. That year, former commissioner Bowie Kuhn received only fourteen votes.

That tally for Miller was obviously too close for comfort for baseball's establishment, concerned that he would probably reach the three-quarters threshold in the next vote. Later that year, the Hall of Fame board carried out a coup. They changed the rules and transformed a democratic voting process into a conspiracy of cronies. They created a twelve-member committee, responsible solely for considering baseball executives, with nine votes required for selection. The much smaller group included seven former executives, two Hall of Fame players, and three writers. When that group met last December, the ballot they considered included ten people, eight of them former team owners or executives as well as Kuhn and Miller. Miller only got three votes. Three people received enough votes to gain entry into the exclusive club. Walter O'Malley, who owned the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1950 to 1979, received nine votes. Barney Dreyfuss, who owned the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1900 to 1932, earned ten votes. Kuhn, baseball commissioner from 1969 to 1984, also received ten votes.

Now Miller says he doesn't want to be inducted to the Hall of Fame. I don't blame him.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Hall of Fame Induction: Bowie Kuhn

Continuing my series of posts on the latest Hall of Fame inductees, today I'll talk about Bowie Kuhn, the one-time commissioner of baseball.

Inducted posthumously over the weekend, Kuhn presided during perhaps baseball’s most dramatic and controversial period: the free agency era. At his election to the post in 1968, Kuhn was working at the New York law firm that served the National League. As commissioner, his legal training would be called upon often.

The dismantling of the reserve clause, coming soon after the landmark Supreme Court case Flood v. Kuhn, defined his tenure—as did the 1981 players’ strike that canceled 52 games.

Kuhn made lots of enemies: He suspended Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle from participating in any baseball-related functions because of their associations with Atlantic City casinos; he made several shortsighted decisions that helped facilitate the downfall of the reserve clause; he handed down suspensions to powerful owners George Steinbrenner and Ted Turner; he allowed the TV networks to schedule all World Series games at night; and he created a controversial playoff system for the 1981 strike-torn season that angered fans and owners.

His tenure was, in fact, marked by more losses than victories, and owners ousted him in 1984 when they decided they wanted a businessman-CEO to lead a restructured baseball “corporation” into the future—which led to the selection of Peter Ueberroth as commissioner.

One of his frequent adversaries, Charlie Finley, had this to say when Kuhn resigned: “If Bowie Kuhn had a brain in his head, he’d be an idiot."

Kuhn was the ultimate stuffed shirt, and all you have to do is read Marvin Miller's great memoir, "A Whole New Ballgame," to see that Finley's assessment is close to the mark. In fact, the Veterans Committee needs to be reconstituted again if it thinks it did a good job with this selection. First of all, Kuhn himself is hardly worthy of induction. He pretty much pissed off everyone in baseball, and lost every battle he fought with the players union. He could have reached out to Miller and formed a partnership with the players, but he didn't.

Second, Kuhn died in March 2007. The Veterans Committee waited until months later to announce his selection. If they really felt he belonged, they would have inducted him years earlier. I think it's a joke when the VC waits until AFTER people die to select them. They snubbed Buck O'Neil so often that, now that he's dead, he's almost sure to receive the honor.

And third, the VC chose Kuhn and snubbed the person who really did a lot for baseball from that era: Marvin Miller. I'll blog about Miller at a later date, but suffice it to say that he changed baseball and all of sport -- which to me is the definition of Hall of Famer.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hall of Fame Induction: Goose Gossage

This weekend, the Baseball Hall of Fame will induct four new members: pitcher Goose Gossage, manager Dick Williams, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, manager Billy Southworth and team executives Barney Dreyfuss of the Pirates and Walter O'Malley of the Dodgers.

Today I'm going to start a series of posts evaluating their qualifications for the Hall of Fame. First up, Gossage.

A devastatingly effective relief pitcher, Gossage helped redefine the role of closer in the 1970s and early 1980s with his menacing stare, goofy mustache, and 100-mph fastball. He saved games through pure intimidation, daring hitters to stand in the box against him. Few ever felt comfortable.

With relief specialization a recent phenomenon in baseball, it has been interesting to watch how Gossage was treated by Hall of Fame voters. He totaled 310 saves with nine teams, and at his peak, he was the best in the game; his 1981 strike-shortened season—0.77 ERA, 20 saves in 32 games—is one of the top 10 seasons ever posted by a reliever. But until this year, it wasn't enough to get him into the Hall. In 2005, the Hall select Bruce Sutter, while many historians and analysts believed they should have selected Gossage instead.

This year, I think Gossage was helped by two factors: (1) Sutter's election paving the way and reminding voters that they may have picked the wrong relief ace. And (2) the lack of any super-qualified candidate. Next year, the greatest player on the ballot will be Rickey Henderson, a sure-fire Hall of Famer. If Henderson had been on the ballot this year, he might have taken the spotlight away from Gossage.

In my opinion, Gossage belongs. I think anybody who followed baseball during his career thought of Gossage as one of the greatest ever at his craft, which is the kind of thing that should qualify you for the Hall.

You can read an exhaustive Wikipedia entry about this year's balloting here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On this date...

On July 24, 1983, George Brett went insane after his home run was disallowed in what became known as the Pine Tar Incident. I had a long post about this last month.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More on Hall of Famers

A post-script to yesterday's post about the low number of Hall of Famers in last week's All-Star Game...

There are several HOF-bound or HOF-track players in baseball today who simply didn't get selected to this year's game:

1. Greg Maddux
2. Ken Griffey Jr.
3. Frank Thomas
4. Sammy Sosa (retired?)
5. Mike Piazza (retired this year)
6. Pedro Martinez
7. Tom Glavine
8. Randy Johnson

HOF-Track or HOF-bubble
9. Jim Thome
10. Ivan Rodriguez
11. Jeff Kent
12. Todd Helton
13. Vladimir Guerrero
14. Gary Sheffield
15. John Smoltz
16. Curt Schilling
17. Mike Mussina
18. Omar Vizquel

In past years, maybe these players would have been selected. There are more teams (30) in baseball now than ever, so more teams who have to send a player. On the other hand, there are more roster spots on the All-Star teams than ever, so they might cancel each other out.

In any case, rest assured that the current baseball era will be well-represented in the Hall of Fame come the next decade or two.

Monday, July 21, 2008

All-Star Research

When I was doing the All-Star Game research, I started counting Hall of Famers. The 1970 game featured 18 Hall of Famers, which I thought was a lot, but then I discovered another one with 18 HOFers. So it got me wondering, how many HOFers play in a typical All-Star Game? And was last week's game "typical" in that we probably watched X number of HOFers?

Time to bring out the spreadsheet and Baseball-Reference.com.

I'm not going to research every single game. Rather, I'll take them at 5-year intervals, starting in 1935, and count the HOFers on each roster. A couple of notes:

- I'm not including players who were elected mainly as managers (e.g. Leo Durocher)
- Instead of 1945, when players were at War, I counted 1946
- For some more recent games, I included players who are retired or close to retirement and have already punched a ticket for the Hall of Fame (e.g. Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey Jr., Maddux, Bonds, etc.)
- I didn't count Pete Rose, but if you want to, go ahead.

Here's what I found:
1935: 19
1940: 14
1946: 12
1950: 18
1955: 17
1960: 17
1965: 16
1970: 18
1975: 16
1980: 14
1985: 13
1990: 12
1995: 13
2000: 7
2005: 2

The numbers show that, historically, the typical All-Star game features around 15 to 18 Hall of Famers. So how does that translate to last Tuesday's game? Let's take a close look at the rosters and project out about 20 years. Here's my take:

HOF Lock: If they retired today, they'd be selected...
1. Alex Rodriguez
2. Mariano Rivera
3. Manny Ramirez
4. Ichiro Suzuki

HOF Track: If they keep doing what they're doing, they'll be selected...
5. Derek Jeter
6. David Ortiz
7. Chipper Jones
8. Albert Pujols

HOF Possibility: They're still a long way, but they're heading in the right direction...
9. Francisco Rodriguez
10. David Wright
11. Hanley Ramirez

(That last group is really hard to identify. Basically, I chose players who have already had several great seasons and are still young enough to post big career numbers.)

So I count 11 potential Hall of Famers in last week's group, which is on the very low end of the historical spectrum. Does that mean today's players aren't as good? Or that the Hall of Fame has selected a number of players who don't deserve induction?

I lean toward the latter explanation. There are some players (Red Schoendienst, Bobby Doerr, Joe Medwick) who basically got elected because of close friendships with members of the Veterans Committee. (But that's for a separate post.)

Anyway, it's an interesting exercise, at least to me.