erik lundegaard

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Sunday February 16, 2014

Times Snodgrasses Fregosi Obit

This was the New York Times headline on the death of Jim Fregosi:

Fregosi obit headline

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:

Fred Snodgrass obit

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.

Posted at 07:14 AM on Feb 16, 2014 in category Baseball
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Wednesday January 08, 2014

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:

Year    

    Pitcher

ERA  

Avg. ERA  

1968    

   Bob Gibson

1.12  

2.98  

1985    

   Dwight Gooden

1.53  

3.89  

1994    

   Greg Maddux 

1.56  

4.92  

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.

Greg Maddux, Sports Illustrated

Posted at 02:48 PM on Jan 08, 2014 in category Baseball
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Monday December 30, 2013

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.

Posted at 08:31 AM on Dec 30, 2013 in category Baseball
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Wednesday December 18, 2013

Quote of the Day

“Congratulations. I'm glad a real hitter broke it. Keep going.”

-- The 10-word telegram George Sisler sent to Joe DiMaggio on June 29, 1941, the day DiMaggio, in a double-header against the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium, passed Sisler's modern-day record of hitting in 41 consecutive games. As recounted on pg. 223 of Kostya Kennedy's book, “56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports.” DiMaggio infamously had his bat stolen between games.

The DiMaggio swing

Posted at 03:39 PM on Dec 18, 2013 in category Baseball
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Tuesday November 26, 2013

Modern Ballplayer Reactions to Joe DiMaggio's 56-Game Hitting Streak

A few thoughts from modern ballplayers on Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in 1941, culled from Kostya Kennedy's book, “56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports,” pp. 187-88, which I've been enjoying during lunch:

“How big of a deal is DiMaggio's streak? Ryan Zimmerman got halfway there and it was on the front page of every sports section and led every sports highlight show. He was halfway. Halfway! Think about that.”
-- David Wright

“Get a hit for two straight months? It's hard to get a hit for two straight days.”
-- Derek Jeter

“That's one of those Bugs Bunny numbers. People do that in cartoons, not in real life.”
-- Ken Griffey, Jr.

“I'm not someone who follows that. Now someone who follows that, they would know [what the hitting streak record is]. But anyway, what is the hitting streak record? [Long pause after being told.] Man, that is a frickin' long hitting streak.”
-- Gary Sheffield

Joltin' Joe DiMaggio

“Hello Joe, whaddaya know?” “We need a hit so here I go.”

Posted at 04:22 PM on Nov 26, 2013 in category Baseball
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