Baseball postsMonday June 16, 2014
Tony Gwynn (1960-2014)
About to put the ball in play.
Tony Gwynn is tied for 18th on the career batting average list with a .338 mark. The main thing you need to know about that is that almost every one of the 17 guys in front of him played in the 19th century. The closest contemporary to Gwynn among the 17 is Ted Williams (.344), who played from 1939 to 1960. Gwynn was born in 1960. Nobody who played later than the year he was born had a higher career batting average than Tony Gwynn.
Tony Gwynn is 112th on the career on-base percentage list with a .388 mark. The main thing you need to know about that is though he was not a bases-on-balls man, he still walked nearly twice as often as he struck out. These days you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who simply walked more than they struck out, but Gwynn’s career walk-strikeout numbers are superb: 790 to 434. That’s actually comparable to Joe DiMaggio’s career walk-strikeout numbers: 790 to 369. Keep in mind: DiMaggio barely struck out in an age when few people did. Tony Gwynn barely struck out in an age when strikeout records were falling left and right. But he was a man who put the ball in play.
Tony Gwynn is 187th on the career OPS list with a .847 mark. The main thing you need to know about that is the guys who are behind him: Reggie Jackson (.845), Carl Yastrzemski (.841) and Roberto Clemente (.834). Gwynn’s secondary numbers might not have been superlative, in other words, but his primary numbers were so good they lifted everything else up.
He led the league in hits seven times and in hitting eight times. Only Ty Cobb led the league more often in hitting. But the main thing I can offer, that you can’t find on baseballreference.com or ESPN.com, is an incident with my friend Adam at the inaugural game at Safeco Field in July 1999.
The Seattle Mariners moved to Safeco mid-season, and chose for an opponent, or had chosen for them, their offical rivals, the San Diego Padres—truly the dullest, most manufactured rivalry in all professional sports. My friend Adam, a magazine editor, was on the field during batting practice. At one point, a batting-practice ball rolled up to him. Instant souvenir! Or was it? Should he, a member of the press, take it or leave it alone? But this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. So he took it.
Did Adam look up? Did he know the dude was talking to him? Did he assume it was for someone else?
Hey you! Put that ball back!
And Adam looked over to see Tony Gwynn advancing toward him. He was shouting loudly. He was letting everyone know the awful thing Adam, now blushing crimson, had done. It’s pretty funny when you think about it. Balls getting hit left and right. Getting hit into the stands. Getting tossed into the stands by players. And here’s this future Hall of Famer, advancing on poor Adam because of one lousy ball.
Then Tony Gwynn broke into a grin to let him know he was giving him shit. Adam still has that ball.
54? Too fucking young.
SLIDESHOW: It's Opening Day 2014! And Here are Your Active Career Leaders
SLIDESHOW: Opening Day! After a long winter. Less long here in Seattle but we'll make up for it with our usual soggy spring and soggy brand of baseball—despite the acquisition of Robinson Cano in a $240 million, 10-year boondoggle of a deal. No, enough of that. It's Opening Day and the M's are tied for first. So is your team (unless your team is in the NL West). A few years ago, I celebrated Opening Day by looking up the active career leaders in various categories. I wanted to see who was rising, who was falling, who had retired. It's become a tradition. So let's go. Active career leader in batting average. Any guesses?
BATTING AVERAGE: Once upon a time, batting average was the be-all end-all stat; now it's disregarded if not maligned. But it still means something. With a minimum 3,000 plate appearances (as with all these batting categories), the active leader is Joe Mauer with a .323 mark, followed closely by Albert Pujols (.321), Miguel Cabrera (.320) and Ichiro (.318). In recent years, Mauer's remained steady, both Pujols and Ichiro have dropped like rocks, while Miggy rises. Mauer's .323 is 44th all-time. One assumes he won't get much higher. So what about OBP? Mauer again? Albert maybe?
ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Nope. It's Joltin' Joey Votto (.419) and it's not close. Pujols is second (.409), then Mauer (.404) and Miggy (.399). I never would've guessed fifth place: Shin-Soo Choo at .389. Votto's .419 is 18th all-time, and it's rising. He's got a .450 mark in the last two years. You know what the means in Cincinnati? Complaints that he walks too much. Next up, slugging percentage and OPS ...
SLUGGING PERCENTAGE, OPS: Yep. Pujols is way out in front in Slugging. In fact, he, Cabrera (.567), Braun (.564) and A-Rod (.558) are the only active players above .550, and he's nearly at .600: .598. Actually: .5988, so really .599. (All of these numbers are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, where the stats are good and the ads are shitty.) Pujols', of course, used to be in the rarefied air above .600, with the Ruths, Gehrigs and Greenbergs, but he's struggled a bit the last two years. He's still 7th all-time. He's also the active leader in OPS with a 1.008 mark. That's 8th all-time. Quick quiz: Who's ahead of him in OPS and not slugging? Quick answer: Rogers Hornsby. Now let's start the counting categories. This is an easy one. What active player is leading in games played, at-bats, and hits?
GAMES, AT-BATS, HITS: For another year, it'll be this guy. Jeter's played in 2,602 games (37th all-time), has 10,614 at-bats (15th all-time), and has 3,316 hits (10th). Where will he wind up in this last category? I crunched the numbers a few months back. Who will take over in these categories when he retires after the 2014 season? Everyone's favorite suspended player. A-Rod is second in all of these, and that won't change from sitting out a season. Then there's Ichiro.The highest non-Yankee in these categories: Adrien Beltre. We'll skip singles (that's too easy) and head over to doubles ...
DOUBLES: Yeah, him again, although hardly in a walk. If Todd Helton hadn't retired he'd be in first with 594. Instead it's Jeter with 525. But Albert Pujols is right behind with 524, followed by David Ortiz with 520 and A-Rod with 519. Jeter's 525 ties him with Ted Williams for 38th all-time. As for the triples title? Still Jeter?
TRIPLES: No, this one goes Carl Crawford (117), then Jose Reyes (111), Jimmy Rollins (107) and Juan Pierre (94), but they're all 30+ and slowing down. In his last year in Tampa, Carl hit 13. In the three years since, a total of 12. C'mon, Carl, only 192 to tie Wahoo Sam Crawford (no relation) at 309. Carl's 117 triples rank him 103rd all-time. Jeter, by the way, is ninth in this category with 65, and none since 2011. None even in his 2012 comeback year. But let's move on to HRs and RBIs and watch the boo-birds come out ...
HOMERUNS, RBIs: ... for this guy. A-Rod is currently 5th all-time in homers with 654 (six away from Willie), and 6th in ribbies with 1969 (23 from Lou). Albert is second in both these categories, but way, way back. Barring disaster, by the way, Albert will reach 500 HRs this year. He's sitting on 492. As for bases on balls? Is that Albert, too?
BASES ON BALLS: Nope. Despite being 42 with a broken rib, not to mention a tainted career, Jason Giambi ain't retired yet, so this one's his. And it's all his. Meaning it ain't tainted. You can argue all you want about how much steroids, etc., helps with homers, etc. (and they obviously do), but no PEDs that we know about can give you a better batting eye. Giambi's 1357 walks place him 32nd all-time, 18 back of Reggie Reggie Reggie. After Giambi, it's Adam Dunn with 1,246, then A-Rod (1,240), Ortiz (1,087), Uncle Albert (1,067) and finally the retiring man, Mr. Jeter (1,047). So how about its opposite? Who's the active leader in strikeouts?
STRIKEOUTS: Stick a fork in it, it's Dunn. Adam has 2,220 Ks, Mr. Suspended has 2,075, Mr. Retiring 1,753. Those are our top 3. Another current Yankee, Alfonso Soriano is at 1732. Pujols, by the way, is way back in 58th place with 835. Ichiro, in the same number of years, and a helluva lot fewer extra-base hits, actually has more strikeouts: 876. Dunn is currently 4th on the all-time list, 377 back of Reggie. If he doesn't flame out in the next two years, we could have a new champion. Now onto stolen bases ...
STOLEN BASES: Rickey Henderson's all-time record of 1,406 steals isn't the most unbreakable record in baseball. That's gotta be wins or complete games (Cy Young). But it's certainly the most unbreakable recent record. No one's close. Put it this way: You give the guy in second-place all-time, Lou Brock (938), all of the stolen bases of the active leader, Ichiro (472), and he beats Rickey by four: 1,410. Ichrio, by the way, falls back to second on the active list if anyone signs Juan Pierre and his 614 career steals (18th all-time). But then they'd also have to sign Juan Pierre and his 203 caught stealings (6th all-time). Now let's look at the pitchers. Any guesses on active career leader in wins?
WINS: As long as Andy Pettite stays retired, this one's a tie: between Tim Hudson, now of San Francisco, and C.C. Sabathia, still with the NY Yankees Suck. Both have 205 career wins. Pettite retired with 256, Halladay, believe it or not, with only 203. Those 205 wins from these two guys are currently good for 102nd all-time. Neither will get to 300. Will anyone? As for losses ... ?
LOSSES: This one was Pettite's, too (153), and it would be Barry Zito's (143) but he remains unsigned. So Mark Buehrle picks up the boobie with 142. He's followed by Ryan Dempster (133, but possibly retired), A.J. Burnett (132), and Bartolo Colon (128), who is now with the Mets, and thus has a shot at passing all of these others. Strikeouts, anyone?
STRIKEOUTS: C.C.'s got it with 2,389, followed by Burnett (2,180) and Dempster (2,075). Those are the only guys left in MLB with more than 2,000 Ks. It's as if these guys never faced Adam Dunn. Sabathia is 42nd all-time, between Sandy Koufax and Charlie Hough. So what about its opposite: Which active pitcher has given up the most free passes?
BASES ON BALLS: Do we count Ryan Dempster? He's got 1,071, which is 84th all-time. But he's gone for 2014 and possibly for good. It's not like the A-Rod thing. A-Rod's chomping at the bit to get back. Dempster, less so. So if not Dempster, and not Zito (1,058), it goes to Burnett at 955. Kudos. Now ERA ...
ERA: With Mariano Rivera gone but definitely not forgotten (2.20, one of the lowest ERAs in baseball history), this is all Clayton Kershaw at 2.60. That's stunning, too. Mo retired in 13th place all-time, behind Walter Johnson, and surrounded by 19th-century, deadball pitchers. Kershaw is currently 55th all-time but no active pitcher is within a half a run of him. Second-best? Adam Wainwright at 3.11, then King Felix at 3.19. The career leader is Ed Walsh: 1.81. Another era. So to speak. So what about innings pitched?
INNINGS PITCHED: Who among our active wins leaders has pitched more: Hudson or Sabbathia? I would've guessed C.C. but it's Hudson: 2,813.2 to 2,775.1. But both take a backseat to Buehrle at 2,882.2. BTW: On the all-time list? That's 153rd. Cy Young's on top with 7,356 IP. Buehrle's 39% of the way there. He just needs to do what he's done for his entire career about two more times. But if you want a comparision with another era, go to complete games ...
COMPLETE GAMES: Since Halladay has retired he takes his 67 CGs with him, leaving us with Sabathia (37), Colon (35), Chris Carpenter (33), and Buehrle (29). If C.C. gets a CG this year, he'll move up into a six-way tie for 997th on the all-time list. That's right: 997th. Cy Young's on top with 749. C.C. just needs to do what he's done for his entire career about 20 more times. To me, this is the most unbreakable record in baseball. Now onto shutouts ...
SHUTOUTS: Again, Halladay leaves with his 20 shutouts, so the new active leader is Chris Carpenter (15), followed by Tim Hudson (13), and Colon, C.C. and Cliff Lee (12 each). Walter Johnson has the career record: 110. The closest any recent pitcher got? Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver. Each had 61. They're tied for seventh all-time. So who's the active career leader in saves now that Mo is gone?
SAVES: Bye-bye Mo at 652. Hello, Joe Nathan at 341. Second to him? Even though I still think of him as the kid who came in and shut down the Yankees in '02? It's 11-year veteran Francisco Rodriguez at 304. He's followed by Jonathan Papelbon (286), Huston Street (234), and J.J. Putz (189). BTW: One more save and Nathan passes Rollie Fingers for sole possession of 10th all-time. Now let's go to WAR for pitchers ...
WAR FOR PITCHERS: Halladay, Pettitte and Mo are gone (65.6, 60.9, 56.6), which leaves us with Hudson, Buehrle, Sabathia (55.3, 54.6, 54.4). Hudson's WAR ranks 73rd all-time. First place? Cy Young, with a 170.3 WAR. This, by the way, is the highest WAR for anyone. Babe Ruth, who has the highest WAR for a position player, is stuck back at 163.2. And speaking of WAR for position players ...
WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: It goes A-Rod (115.7), then Albert (93.0), Jeter (71.6), Beltre (70.5), Beltran (67.5), Ichiro (58.5). Meaning four of the top six are currently Yankees. And how much WAR did they have between them last year? A-Rod was at 0.3, Jeter -0.7, Beltran 2.4 and Ichiro 1.4 for a total of 3.4. Meaning these four guys together were worth as much as Leonys Martin of Texas. If, that is, you believe in WAR. And what kind of nut believes in WAR?
EXIT MUSIC FOR A SLIDESHOW: I posted this on Facebook last night after watching Dee Gordon climb the ladder: “I love the nonchalance of baseball. You make a nice catch, you don't spike the ball, you don't dance, you don't fulminate. You act like you belong.” Here's to a great season, everyone. As M's Hall of Fame announcer Dave Niehaus used to say, My oh my.
Times Snodgrasses Fregosi Obit
This was the New York Times headline on the death of Jim Fregosi:
At least they got the “All Star” in there first.
It's not just the sentiment of the second part—he is most famous for whom he was traded—it's the awkward construction. It's the passive voice. A man should never get the passive voice in his own obit.
In a larger sense, though, the headline recalls the Times hed from 1974 on the death of turn-of-the-century ballplayer Fred Snodgrass, which Ken Burns' “Baseball” documentary highlighted as part of the cruelty of baseball's long memory:
You live your life, make the Majors, go .300/.400/.400 in your first full season, become a banker and a rancher and a mayor, and what are you remembered for? Your Charlie Brown moment. Baseball, not to mention headlines, can be cruel this way.
I wonder what Jim Fregosi would have said if you'd asked him what he remembered most about his career. Being a six-time All Star? Hitting .290 in the pitching-centric year of 1967? Leading the league in triples? Hitting for the cycle twice? One Gold Glove, some MVP votes, five different teams. But he gets no say in the matter. Neither do I. I remember Fregosi less for the Ryan trade than for happenstance. He was one of those magical, musical-sounding names, along with Rico Petrocelli and Cesar Tovar and Roberto Clemente, that appeared in Topps baseball cards that I first started collecting in 1970 at the age of 7. He was a cardboard god.
But we get what we get, and most of us won't get anything. There's comfort in that, Ernie Broglio.
My Greg Maddux Story
My sister’s wedding took place in Atlanta in May 1999, and for the bachelor party, an inclusive affair involving both men and women, my brother-in-law Eric rented a luxury suite at Turner Field for an afternoon game between the Braves and the Pirates. Even better? Greg Maddux was starting for the Braves.
By this point in his career Maddux was generally regarded as the best pitcher of his generation. Well, you had Clemens, and then Randy, and Pedro was coming up fast, but throughout the 1990s, almost by himself, stood Maddux: bespectacled, quiet, vaguely quizzical. He looked like a professor out there. He looked like one of us. He just didn’t pitch that way.
How good was he? He led the league in innings pitched five years in a row (1991-1995) and in WHIP and ERA three years in a row (1993-1995). He also won the Cy Young award four years in a row (1992-1995).
His 1995 season was amazing—19-2, 1.65 ERA, 181 strikeouts to 23 walks—but was ’94 better? His strikeout-to-walk ratio wasn’t as good (156-31), neither his won-loss record (16-6), but his ERA was only 1.56.
How good was that? There have been 246 instances of a pitcher with a sub-2.00 ERA season in baseball history but 205 of those came from the deadball era, leaving just 41 such seasons since 1921. The pitching-friendly 1960s alone had 14. Hell, in 1968, seven pitchers had sub-2.00 ERAs, including Bob Gibson at 1.12. The next year, no surprise, the pitching mound was lowered again to give the hitters a chance.
Since then, there have been 19 seasons when a pitcher had a sub-2.00 ERA. And since 1990? Only eight such seasons, with Clemens, Pedro and Maddux with two each.
But none of them was lower than Maddux’s.
That 1.56 ERA? Since the deadball era, only two pitchers have done better: Gibson in ’68 and Dwight Gooden in ’85. But compare their numbers with the league averages:
In 1968, the second-best ERA in the Majors belonged to Luis Tiant at 1.60, nearly a half-run behind Gibson. The year Gooden did what he did, John Tudor had a 1.93 ERA, or 4/10 of a run behind Gooden. And in 1994, the second-best ERA in the Majors belonged to Steve Ontiveros of the A’s, at 2.65: more than a run per game behind Maddux.
How can someone be that much better than everyone else?
I was aware of some of this history, not all of it, that day in late April 1999 when we went to Turner Field. The suite was near home plate, and with several rows into the stadium where you could sit with everyone else and watch the game. You weren’t stuck behind a glass partition. That’s where I was sitting when Greg Maddux came in from the bullpen after his pregame workout. So I did what we always did at the Kingdome when Randy appeared after his pregame workout: I stood and applauded.
I was the only one.
I looked around. The stands were sparse but not that sparse. No one was looking at me, standing up and applauding by my lonesome, but they definitely didn’t join in, either. But I kept doing it. Why not? That’s what you do. I applauded him and his catcher all the way into the dugout.
The Braves won that game, 8-1. It was the only time I ever saw him pitch live.
Today, Maddux was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame with 97% of the vote (eighth-best ever), along with his teammate Tom Glavine (91.9%), and the Big Hurt, Frank Thomas (83.7%). All good choices.
Craig Biggio fell just two votes short (74.8%), but he’ll get in next year. Jack Morris, in his 15th and final year, finished with just 61% of the vote. I tend to agree with that one. My man Edgar fell off to only 25% of the vote. I’ll write about that another time.
In the meantime, a final round of applause for one of the great pitchers of the era.
When Hot Dogs > Steroids
“Babe Ruth's home run record stood until 1961, when Roger Maris, also of the Yankees, hit 61, though Maris had the advantage of a longer season, which gave him 10 more games and 50 more at-bats than Ruth in 1927. In the 1990s, many baseball players suddenly became immensely strong—some evolved whole new body shapes—and began to smack home runs in quantities that made a mockery of Ruth's and Maris' numbers. It turned out that a great many of this new generation of ballplayers—soemthing in the region of 5 to 7 percent, according to random drug tests introduced, very belatedly, in 2003—were taking anabolic steroids.
”The use of drugs as an aid to hitting is far beyond the scope of this book, so let us just note in passing that even with the benefit of steroids most modern players still couldn't hit as many home runs as Babe Ruth hit on hot dogs.“
-- Bill Bryson, ”One Summer: America, 1927,“ which focuses not only on the achievements of Babe Ruth but Charles Lindbergh, as well as the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, the introduction of talking motion pictures, the rise of Al Capone and the fall of Jack Dempsey as well as the height of something called ”negative eugenics." It's much, much recommended.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard