erik lundegaard

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Tuesday July 28, 2015

How Two Men Connect the Battle of Fredericksburg with Today

The following quote is from Charles Leerhsen's biography “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty.” I'm at the point in the book shortly after Ty Cobb is besmirched in a 1926 betting scandal on a 1919 baseball game, and thus forced out as player-manager of the Detroit Tigers, the only team he'd ever known, and shortly before he would play two years for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, where he would hit .357 and .323 (w/OPSes of .931 and .819), before retiring for good after the '28 season.

This is the quote:

Connie Mack, who was born a few days after the Battle of Fredericksburg and who would live long enough to manage a game called by Vin Scully, had already been around a long time at that point.

I like these throwaways from Leerhsen that bend the mind a bit. Mack was Mr. Longevity as a baseball manager just as Scully was in the broadcast booth. Both exuded/exude class.

Mack was born in 1862, played professional baseball for 10 years (1886-1896), then managed the A's from 1901 to 1950. He died six years later at the age of 93. Essentially he managed from before the Wright Bros. to after breaking the sound barrier; from cannonballs to the atom bomb.

Scully, meanwhile, was born in 1927 and began broadcasting Dodgers games in 1950 when they were in Brooklyn. He's still doing so 65 years later. 

But wait. Dodgers are NL, A's AL. Did Scully announce a game managed by Connie Mack? 

Yes. Here's what he told Mariners' announcer Rick Rizzs about the first game he announced:

I think the very first one was an exhibition game and we were playing the Philadelphia Athletics and the manager that year was Connie Mack. Now the next year Jimmy Dykes became the official manager but my first broadcast was with the A's in Vero Beach with Mr. Mack right there in the black suit, and the celluloid collar, and the straw hat. I remember in that game I think Ferris Fain was the first baseman and it seems to me there was a triple play which Red Barber called and I remember sitting there thinking, “He made it sound so easy,” and I was scared to death.

Anyway, that's how we get from the Civil War to today, and from baseball in 1886 to today. Takes two men who were good at what they do and loved doing it.

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Posted at 05:00 PM on Jul 28, 2015 in category Baseball
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Friday July 03, 2015

Is 3.5 Years of Mike Trout > 12 Years of Yadier Molina?

It began as a cheeky stats hunt. 

I noticed that Mike Trout's WAR (Wins Above Replacement) during his first three full seasons, plus half of this one, was astronomical: 33.3. Knowing WAR numbers were cumulative, and that they go can backwards (you can get negative WAR numbers), I wondered which veteran players Trout has already passed on the WAR charts. That was the cheeky question.  

Here's the cheeky answer. Currently, Trout, all of 23 and 11/12, is tied for 32nd among active players. In other words, his 3.5 years in Major League baseball are, by this measure, already worth more than Adam Jones' 10 years (26.6 WAR), J.J. Hardy's 11 (27.3) and Jayson Werth's 13 (30.0).

It began to annoy me a bit when I noticed that Yadier Molina, one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, and a man who turned himself into a fine hitter as well—with a .305 batting average and a .803 OPS since the start of the 2011 season—is also on this lesser Trout list. His WAR is 30.3, 40th among active players, and that seems wrong. And I wondered: Does WAR undervalue Yadi or all catchers, whose careers, after all, tend to be shorter, and thus less cumulative, than the careers of other positions? 

I think it's the latter. The highest-ranked catcher on the career WAR chart is Johnny Bench at No. 48 with a 75.0 WAR. He's one-tenth of a percentage point better than Lou Whitaker at No. 49.

Here are the top 8 catchers ranked by WAR. Yogi Berra fans, get ready to be angry:

Rank Player WAR Years
48 Johnny Bench 75.0 17
68 Gary Carter 69.9 19
74 Ivan Rodriguez 68.4 21
77 Carlton Fisk 68.3 24
121 Yogi Berra 59.5 19
122 Mike Piazza 59.4 16
139 Bill Dickey 55.8 17
169 Mickey Cochrane 52.1 13

I checked to see if WAR's catcher rating was already a controversy. It was. As far back as 2010

I will say this: Given the choice between 3.5 years of Mike Trout and 12 of Yadier, I think I'd take Yadi for 12, Alex. 

Mike Trout Yadier Molina

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Posted at 06:57 AM on Jul 03, 2015 in category Baseball
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Sunday June 21, 2015

Hit-By-Pitch Breaks Up Scherzer's Perfect Game: Blame Tabata, the Umps, or the Elbow Pad?

It's such a Baseball 101 moment that it came up in the first inning of the first baseball game my Lebanese friend Robert ever went to:

“So what if the ball is outside the strike zone and the batter swings and misses?” Robert asked. That's a strike, too, I said. “What if the ball hits the batter?” That's a hit-by-pitch, I said, and the batter goes to first base. “So how come the batter gets out of the way?” he asked. “Doesn't he want to go to first?” Well, I said, if the umpire thinks he didn't try to get out of the way, then he might not let him go to first base. Besides, it would hurt. The ball is small and hard and thrown between 85 and 100 miles per hour. “Yes,” Robert agreed. “That would hurt.”

I should have added: It's a rare call when a batter is hit and the ump doesn't award him first base. He has to be pretty blatant about not getting out of the way of the pitch.

Was José Tabata blatant about not only not getting out of the way of a 2-2 slider from Max Scherzer, who was working on a perfect game with two outs in the top of the ninth? In real time, it's tough to see what's going on but when you slow it down it's obvious that not only did Tabata not get out of the way, he kind of leaned into it. On purpose? To break up the perfect game? Or because we tend to meet conflict halfway?

Either way, he got first base. So instead of Max Scherzer becoming the 24th pitcher in baseball history to toss a perfect game, he became, a batter later, the 289th to throw a no-hitter.

Oh, and despite what I said to Robert, it didn't look like it hurt all that much, either. I've seen articles all over the place today, saying “Blame the umps” or “Don't blame Tabata” but maybe the argument should be “Blame the elbow pads.” Because if his elbow had been unprotected? Jose Tabata might've actually tried to get out of the way of that pitch. 

Jose Tabata breaks up Max Scherzer's perfect game

Jose Tabata, practicing what Sheryl Sandberg preaches.  

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Posted at 06:20 AM on Jun 21, 2015 in category Baseball
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Monday June 15, 2015

Fred Wenz Update

Fred WenzI always forget to check the “other” IM inbox on Facebook. There's the main one (InBox) and then the other (“Others”), which usually contains Kickstarter requests and/or insults. But today I found this little gem, dated 5/19:

Where Have You Gone, Fred Wenz?

As of an hour ago, he was alive and well, passing through Lancaster County, PA. I met him in an Amish lantern shop where he has apparently had business dealings over the years. After he left, the shop owner showed me that very baseball card, signed by Fred himself. Fred is a lot heavier now, but a very jovial, easygoing guy. I think you may be right about him cutting up when he posed for that picture. He spoke of playing in the last game ever in Connie Mack Stadium as a thrill in his career. 

Here's my original post on Fred Wenz that led this gentleman to me. 

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Posted at 01:45 PM on Jun 15, 2015 in category Baseball
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Thursday May 28, 2015

Bob on Bob: My Father's Memories of Bob Feller

Apparently I've gotten my father to not only read Joe Posnanski but add comments. For Memorial Day, Joe, who is not exactly known for being pithy (and we're all the better for it), wrote a simple paragraph on Bob Feller and his WWII service, to which my father added, in the comments field, a pertinent trivia question: In 1941, the year Ted Williams hit .406 and Joe DiMaggio had his famous 56-game hitting streak, who led the league in hits? Obviously not either of those two.

I'll let him give the answer:

The answer is Cecil Travis, Washington Senators shortstop, and, at 28, a nine-year veteran. His lifetime average at that point was .327, which tied him with Honus Wagner for the highest among shortstops.

Now the sad part: He spent four years in the Army in World War II, froze his feet in the Battle of the Bulge and had three mediocre part-seasons when he returned home, still ending at .314, the highest among AL shortstops.

Unlike Feller, he didn't say what the war cost his baseball legacy. He was modest to a fault, claiming that he was a good player but not good enough for the Hall. Some people disagreed, among them Feller and Ted Williams, but he never received a single vote for the Hall of Fame!

(BTW: On Poz's site, check out the guy below my father's post who crunches the numbers and surmises that Travis probably would've made the Hall if not for the interruption.) 

Believe it or not, all of the above is throat-clearing. What I really wanted to post was what my father emailed me yesterday morning:

Two connections I had with Bob Feller: I was at Shibe Park in Philly on the night that, according to his autobiog, “Strikeout Story,” was the game in which he had his best stuff ever. If memory serves he had 13 or 14 strikeouts after five innings, set to break his record of 18, but he slipped coming off the mound and had to leave the game. The only player he didn't strike out was an outfielder named Barney McCosky, who was a hitter in the Cecil Travis vein.

Secondly, he cost me my job as an usher at Griffith Stadium in Washington. As usual, when he pitched there were more than the usual number of fans in attendance, and because of the crowd size I was assigned to sit along the left field foul line, on the field, to collect any foul balls. A fan behind me complained that he couldn't see over my cap, so I jokingly gave it to him to wear. Apparently Clark Griffith noticed the usher out of uniform and ordered that he be cashiered.

Anyone who thinks my father should write more about his baseball memories, raise your hand. Mine's already up.

Cecil Travis, Washington Senators

Cecil Travis

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Posted at 02:21 PM on May 28, 2015 in category Baseball
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