erik lundegaard

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Saturday July 13, 2019

Jim Bouton (1939-2019)

I was surprised that he was 80. He always seemed so young to me. He was young at heart—the perennial rebel. 

Even so, he was hardly the iconoclast everyone made him out to be. If you read “Ball Four”—and you really should—you‘ll see that half the time he’s just a guy trying to fit in. “I don't like people to think terrible thoughts about me,” he writes early on. “Despite my efforts to be one of the boys,” he writes after his roommate Gary Bell is traded midseason, “the fact that I was Gary's roommate is what helped most.” 

That's what makes the book so good. It's that tension. Bouton wants to fit in but he can't because 1) he is different from most ballplayers (he reads, he writes) and 2) he has a low tolerance for stupidity. And within the 1969 Seattle Pilots organization he kept finding it. 

Coaches question players for taking baseballs out of the ballbag: “What are you using them for?” they ask. The Yankee clubhouse manager refuses to stock orange juice because “If I get it, you guys just drink it up.” Bouton is interested in a new sports drink called Gatorade, and buys several cases for the team, but the Pilots’ GM not only won’t compensate him he launches an investigation into this so-called “Gatorade.” 

My favorite example of managerial ineptitude is during a late April game against the Minnesota Twins when pitching coach Sal Maglie yells at pitcher Darrel Brandon not to worry about Rod Carew leading off third. “For crissakes, get the hitter,” he yells. “The runner isn’t going anywhere.” So of course Carew steals home. And of course there's no mea culpa from Maglie. “You know you’ve got to pitch in the stretch from that situation,” he tells Brandon.*

(*Should we forgive Maglie somewhat since, though Carew tied a Major League record that year by stealing home seven times, it is early in the season? Sure, somewhat. Except Carew had already stolen home twice. This was his third. He was off and running. And not just him. In this game, the Twins had four stolen bases—including one by Harmon Killebrew, who wasn't exactly Lou Brock. That was all Billy Martin, by the way. Up to this season, Killebrew had 7 career SBs with 8 CS. Under Martin? In 1969? Eight SBs and 2 CS.)

The Pilots were a bad team and management made them worse. During the course of the year, Seattle sends to the minors one of the best relief pitchers of the 1970s (Mike Marshall), and they trade the future 1969 Rookie of the Year to Kansas City (Lou Piniella). “Lou wasn't their style,” Bouton says simply. Exactly. He wanted to win.

That's also part of the beauty of “Ball Four”: Bouton held a job most of us only dream about, yet his story is also ours: My boss is an idiot. Who can’t relate?

On Facebook, on the day Bouton died, I wrote this: 

Rest in peace, Jim Bouton, lover of baseball and books and Mount Rainier. You were less iconoclast than a man with a low tolerance for stupidity; but that marked you in Major League Baseball. Hell, it‘ll mark you almost anywhere. The last line of BALL FOUR is as good as any last line of any book ever published: “You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

This is the Rainier reference. In “Ball Four,” it’s from the July 26 chapter—a few days before he's traded to Houston. He writes:

It's still hard to get used to playing baseball again after the All-Star break. Three days off reminds you how much tension you live under playing baseball every day. During the break Harmon Killebrew can't get you. Reggie Jackson can't get you. It's peaceful. Like looking up at Mt. Rainier. That's the great thing about our ballpark. When a home run hit off you disappears over the fence your eeys catches a glimpse of the majesty of Mt. Rainier and some of that bad feeling goes away.  

Godspeed, Jim. Keep giving them the ol' Rufus Goofus.

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Posted at 04:27 PM on Jul 13, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Wednesday May 29, 2019

Bill Buckner (1949-2019)

Everyone's doing their best to cull up other facts and stats. Like the 2,715 career hits (66th all-time) or the 10,037 plate appearances (84th all-time), or the fact that he never struck out more than 40 times in a season or three times in a game, and for his career he walked as often as he struck out (450-453). In 1980, he led the league in batting (.324) and in ‘81 and ’83 in doubles (35, 38). Everyone's mentioning all of this.

And when they do mention the play, they make pains to let everyone know—as if we did not—that it was Game 6, not 7, and the Red Sox weren't ahead, the score was tied. If he'd made the play, a routine grounder, Game 6 of the 1986 World Series would‘ve gone to the top of the 11th, tied 5-5. But he didn’t so it continued onto Game 7 the following night. The Red Sox led that one at one point, too.

The bottom half of the 10th was a clusterfuck so why did he get stuck with it? That's the question. Two outs, nobody on, a 2-run lead, and everyone in Boston all but tasting their first World Championship since 1918. Then: 

  • Gary Carter, single to left
  • Kevin Mitchell, single to center
  • Ray Knight, single to center

At which point, Sox manager John McNamara got off his ass and relieved Calvin Schiraldi, who'd already gone 2 2/3 innings, for Bob Stanley, their closer. Red Sox are still leading, mind you. It's first and third. You just need a strikeout, a groundout, a fly out, or a foul out. The key word is out. Instead:

  • Wild pitch; Mitchell scores, Knight to 2B

That ties the score. So why does Bob Stanley get off scot-free? Why does Shiraldi, who let the Mets tie it up in the bottom of the 8th, and then couldn't close the deal in the bottom of the 10th? So much pain. Who's causing us this pain? 

Back in ‘86, I was taking a break from Saturday night studying (I was that guy) and watching it all in the basement of Coffman Union on the University of Minnesota campus. I might’ve even had a bet on the game. I certainly had rooting interests. They develop fast in the postseason, and I'd liked the way that Red Sox had come back against the Angels in the ALCS, and I disliked almost everybody on that Mets team. They all seemed like assholes. (They all were assholes). Plus I wanted to see Red Sox fans celebrate for the first time since 1918 rather than Mets fans for the first time since 1969. Instead, the above, and it already felt lost by the time Stanley threw the wild pitch. How could they regroup? 

They didn‘t. This is how it’s written up on Baseball Reference:

  • Mookie Wison ... Reached on E3 (Ground Ball); Knight scores/unER

I think he got stuck with it because it looked like a play any of us could‘ve made. It was the cherry on top of the shit sundae. Nobody remembers the shit sundae, they just remember someone putting that cherry on top of it. His name didn’t help him either. Alliterative. There's a reason superhero secret identities are often alliterative. It's easier to remember Clark Kent and Peter Parker than Clark Richards and Peter Engelson.

Or Bill Buckner.  

Anyway, everyone who is writing about his death at the age of 69 is trying not to focus on all that. No one wants the headline the New York Times gave poor Fred Snodgrass:

Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly 

This is the headline the Times gave for this go-round:

Bill Buckner, All-Star Overshadowed by World Series Error, Dies at 69

Yes, it's a bit of a cheat. “Overshadowed” is how they get away with it. It's not us, it's you. 

I'd recommend for any baseball fan Alex Gibney's doc “Catching Hell,” which is mostly about Steve Bartman, the Cubs fan who tried to catch a foul ball during Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, but there's a good section on Billy Buck on it. It's about scapegoating. It's about finding that person who caused us so much pain; even if there's so many others we could point the finger at.  

I also recommend Joe Posnanski's column on Billy Buck. Joe's been talking a lot lately about how it's not your father's game of baseball anymore. Batting averages are down, triples are down, walks are down, homeruns are up, strikeouts are way up. It's all or nothing now. Buckner was different. I like this early on:

That was Billy Buck's superpower: He almost never struck out. He did not develop his powers through radioactive spiders or the strength of earth's yellow sun. He did it through sheer stubbornness. Nine times in his career, Bill Buckner finished first or second in the league for fewest strikeouts per at-bat. You might GET him out. You would not STRIKE him out.

In 1980, the year he led the league in batting, he came to the plate 615 times. He struck out 18 of them.

Bryce Harper has struck out 19 times in the last two weeks.

Joey Gallo struck out 207 times in 2018.

Bill Buckner struck out 205 times in the 1970s. The whole decade.

Attention must be paid, and Poz pays it:

Bill Buckner had become the broken-down man of the 1986 World Series BECAUSE of baseball. That's not mentioned enough. When you see Buckner on that replay, with Vin Scully's voice singing “BEHIND THE BAG,” you are seeing the product of a baseball life. Every scar, every limp, every hitch, those were earned on the diamond.

He was only 69. Complications related to dementia. Former commissioner Bart Giamatti once said that baseball is designed to break your heart, but other things are more so. 

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Posted at 08:09 AM on May 29, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Monday May 06, 2019

Has Anyone Ever Led the League in Doubles, Triples and Homers During Their Career?

The scarcity of guys who led the league in doubles and triples in the same season (last: Cesar Tovar, 1970), and doubles and homers in the same season (last: Albert Belle, 1995), led to the realization that only a handful of guys have done either at any point in their careers. And the eight guys since 1970 who led in doubles and triples during their career, and the eight guys who led in doubles and homers during their career, don't include any of the same names. Meaning no one has led the league in all three categories at any point in their career since at least 1970.

Which led to this question: Has anyone in baseball history ever led the league in doubles, triples and homers during their career? And if so, who was the last to do it? 

The immediate thought: Willie Mays. He's one of five guys to lead the league in homers and triples in the same season—1955—so all he needed was to lead the league in doubles at one point in his magnificent 22-year career to get the trifecta.

Guess what? He retired with 523 career doubles, 16th-best all-time in 1973, but he never led the league. His career high was 43 in 1959 but that was only good enough for third in the NL—behind Vada Pinson (47) and Hank Aaron (46).

OK, what about Mickey Mantle then? He also lead the league in homers and triples in 1955. (BTW: How about that? Only five guys ever did a thing in baseball history and two of them did it in the same season.) Did he complete the trifecta?

Nope. Never a doubles guy. His career high was 37 in 1952 and his career total is 344, currently tied for 307th all-time.

Jim Rice? He's the last to do homers/triples in the same season. But nope. Never doubles. 

Well, surely Stan the Man. He led the league in doubles and triples in the same season four times. And when he retired in ‘63, he was sixth all-time in homers—behind only Ruth, Foxx, Williams, Ott and Gehrig. 

He came close. In 1948, his career-high 39 dingers placed him one behind league leaders Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize. That was as close as het got. 

Aaron? Just doubles and homers. 

Yastrzemski? Just doubles and homers. 

DiMaggio? Just triples and homers. 

Ruth? Just homers

To give you an idea how hard it is to lead the league in any of these categories, here’s someone who's never done any of it: Mike Trout. The best player in the game today, and he never led the league in either doubles, triples or homers. 

OK, so did anybody do it? 

Yes. I‘ve found seven names. First, a few caveats. I only went back to 1901 when the American League was formed. So I only counted guys that did it from 1901 on. If someone did two categories in the 1890s and one in the 1900s, he’s not on this list. Just a warning. 

Plus I'm one guy with a day job. I did due diligence but I might have missed some names. 

And now here a hint: There are seven players but only on three teams. Yes, one of them is the Yankees, but it's not the dominant team. In fact, the Yanks just have one guy. The Tigers have two. The St. Louis Cardinals have four. 

Here you go: The seven players who managed the trifecta and the year they completed it:

Ty Cobb 1908, 911, 1917 1908, 1911, 1917, 1918 1909 1909
Sam Crawford 1909 1902, 1903, 1910, 1913, 1914, 1915 1901, 1908 1909
Rogers Hornsby 1920, 1921, 1922, 1924 1917, 1921 1922, 1925 1922
Jim Bottomley 1925, 1926 1928 1928 1928
Lou Gehrig 1927, 1928 1926 1931, 1934, 1936 1931
Joe Medwick 1936, 1937, 1938 1934 1937 1937
Johnny Mize 1941 1938 1939, 1940, 1947, 1948 1941

You knew there would be deadball guys, since homers back then were often just extended triples. Hornsby also makes sense—a great hitter who began to hit homers after Ruth got the attention he did; and he did it in the NL, where he didn't have to beat Ruth to take the HR title. Ditto, Bottomley, who was good for a short period. Both are Cards. As is Medwick and Mize. Mize became a Giant and a Yankee, but his trifecta black ink is with the Cards. 

Anyway, that's the answer. These seven. And the last to do it was Johnny Mize, in the season before we entered World War II.

Does anyone have a shot at it today? I'll get to that in the final post on the subject. 

Who led the league in doubles, triples and HRs during their career?

Seven Samurai: 4 Cards, 2 Tigers, 1 Yankee.

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Posted at 07:19 AM on May 06, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Wednesday April 24, 2019

Leading the League in Doubles and Homers

The other day I wrote about the last MLB player to lead the league in doubles and triples in the same season (Cesar Tovar, 1970), along with all the guys who have lead the league in both since then, just not in the same year. (Rudi, Brett, Yount, Molitor, Van Slyke, Knoblauch, Garciaparra and Bobby Abreu.) 

Steve Krevisky's SABR page, which I came across in my research, also includes a list of guys who led the league in doubles and homers in the same season. Last on his list is Willie Stargell in 1973, so I knew Krevisky's list was created before 1995, since that's when Albert Belle did it. Question: Who was the last guy to do it? 

I assumed there would be more recent names. Doubles and triples hitters seem like different beasts; and while there are classic doubles hitter (Knoblauch, Edgar), you also got guys like David Ortiz and Albert Pujols who do both well. Ortiz retired 17th on the all-time HR list with 541 and 12th on the all-time doubles list with 632. Pujols is even better: 6th in dingers, 10th in doubles. So surely one of those guys led the league in both in the same season. 


Well, what about Miggy. Big with both. Or A-Rod?

Nope and nope. 

Junior? Never led the league in doubles. Jason Giambi? Never led the league in HRs. 

Short answer is that between Stargell ‘73 and today, it’s only been Albert Belle in ‘95.

As for the guys who did in separate seasons? Longer list, with a lot of the above names. 

No.  PLAYER 2Bs 2Bs HRs HRs HRs HRs HRs
1 Andres Galarraga  1988   1996        
2 Juan Gonzalez 1998   1992 1993      
3 Alex Rodriguez* 1996   2001 2002 2003 2005 2007
4 Albert Pujols 2003   2009 2010      
7 Adrian Beltre** 2010   2004        
5 David Ortiz 2016   2006        
6 Miguel Cabrera 2008 2012 2011 2014      
8 Nolan Arenado 2017   2015 2016 2018    

* A-Rod is the only guy who did this for three different teams: Doubles with M’s, league leader in HRs thrice for Texas and twice for NYY
** Beltre is the only guy who did it in both leagues

Look at the last two guys. Miggy just kept missing. And Arenado? Good god, could he have gotten any closer? 

BTW: If you‘ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that the 2Bs/3Bs guys since 1970, and the 2Bs/HRs guys since 1970/73, don't include any of the same names. Meaning, since 1970, no one has led the league in all three categories (doubles, triples, homers) at some point in their career. 

Here's the question: Has anyone in baseball led the league in all three stats at some point in their career?

OK, that's not the question, since, yes, guys have done that—particularly in the deadball era when homers were often inside-the-parkers, and so it was kind of the same skill set: hit the ball were they ain't and run like hell.

Here's the last question: Who has done it since the deadball era? And who is the last guy to do it? 

That's next.

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Posted at 03:15 PM on Apr 24, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
Monday April 22, 2019

Leading the League in Doubles and Triples

One recent night when I was having trouble sleeping, I spent time perusing Baseball Reference, came across Cesar Tovar's page, and saw that he'd led the league in both doubles and triples in 1970. I already knew this—I'd even written about it—but this time a light bulb went off. How common was that—to lead the league in both categories in the same year? Who was the last guy to do it? 

Turns out: Pretty uncommon. Tovar's the last guy to do it. 

Searching for the answer, I came across a SABR page by Steve Krevisky on various baseball feats, including leading the league in both doubles and triples in the same season. Here's Krevisky's list:

1 Honus Wagner 1900 1908    
2 Ty Cobb 1908 1911 1917  
3 Bobby Veach 1919      
4 Rogers Hornsby 1921      
5 Charlie Gehringer 1923      
6 Joe Vosmik 1935      
7 Stan Musial 1943 1946 1948 1949
8 Zoilo Versalles 1965      
9 Lou Brock 1968      
10 Cesar Tovar 1970      

Before going further, how about a hand for Stan the Man? Since the deadball era, this feat has only happened 10 times—and he has four of them. Career, he's 19th all-time in triples (and everyone ahead of him is pre-WWII), and third all-time in doubles (Speaker, Rose). Plus 475 HRs, which, when he retired in 1963, was sixth all-time, behind Ruth, Foxx, Williams, Ott and Gehrig. No wonder he was The Man.

That said, Krevisky's list, I could tell, was old. His list of guys who led the league in doubles and homers in the same year ends with Willie Stargell in 1973 when I knew Albert Belle did it in 1995. So, to make sure, I crunched all the doubles/triples numbers after 1970.

And I couldn't find anyone who'd done it after Tovar.

I did find a few guys who led the league in doubles and triples—just not in the same year:

NO. PLAYERS 2Bs 2Bs 3Bs 3Bs 3Bs
1 Joe Rudi 1974   1972    
2 George Brett 1978 1990 1975 1976 1979
3 Robin Yount 1980 1982 1983 1988  
4 Paul Molitor 1987   1991    
5 Andy Van Slyke 1992   1988    
6 Chuck Knoblauch 1994   1996    
7 Nomar Garciaparra 2002   1997    
8 Bobby Abreu 2002   1999    

Before going further, how about a hand for George Brett? Not just for being a five-time leader but for the 12-year gap in his doubles titles. And how the hell did he lead the league in triples three times with Willie Wilson on his team? Answer: Wilson didn't become a full-time player until 1979, then led the league in triples five times in the ‘80s.

BTW, anyone guessing Bobby Abreu for this list, go to the head of the class. 

Since I kept seeing players from the Kansas City Royals, I wondered how often someone on that team led the league in either category from 1970 to 1990. Answer: 16 times: Brett with 5, Wilson with 5 (triples), Hal McRae twice (doubles), Amos Otis twice (doubles), Lou Piniella (doubles) and Freddie Patek (triples). In the AL, the next closest team is the Milwaukee Brewers with eight: Yount, Molitor, Cooper, Pedro Garcia. Boston has seven, the Twins have five. In the NL, the Expos have eight league leaders, with Houston and Philly at seven each. No one’s close to the Royals.

Anyway, that's the answer to that late-night question: The last man to lead the league in both doubles and triples in the same season is Cesar “Pepe” Tovar in 1970. Nice coincidence: I just happen to have a picture with him that fateful year:

My brother Chris and I with Cesar Tovar in 1970. 

More soon.

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Posted at 07:58 AM on Apr 22, 2019 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
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