Baseball postsFriday October 14, 2016
And Then There Were Four
A year ago, the Toronto Blue Jays were the team with the longest postseason drought.
Today they're the remaining 2016 team with the most recent World Series title:
|TEAM||LAST PENNANT||LAST TITLE|
|Toronto Blue Jays||1993||1993|
That's good news for baseball fans. For the World Series, we are at least going to get a team that hasn't won a pennant since '97 or a World Series since '93. Those are worst-case scenarios.
The bigger news is we're on the verge of a potentially historic underdog series, Indians vs. Cubs, or a team that hasn't won the World Series since 1948 (longest AL drought) vs. a team that hasn't won since 1908 (longest MLB drought by far). That would be something. Let's see both of them lose that.
That said, the Cubs aren't as historically bad as people think. They were the first team to go to the World Series twice (1906, 1907) and to win it twice (1907, 1908). And that pennant in 1945? It was their 10th overall. At that point, only the Yankees (14) and the Giants (12) had captured more flags.
Hell, despite this historic drought, they still average one pennant every 11 years, which is a better average than both the Blue Jays and Indians. It's only when you look at average years between titles that their historic ineptitude becomes obvious:
|Toronto Blue Jays||37||7||2||2||18.5||18.5|
* Since advent of World Series in 1903, excluding 1904, 1994 and this year.
(And if you're curious, yes, the Yankees slaughter everyone in each of these categories. They have 52 postseason appearances (Dodgers are second), 40 pennants (Giants are second w/20), 27 titles (Cards: 11). They average a pennant once every 2.75 years, and a championship once every 4.07 years. It's why we hate them.)
(BTW: For the above, I did not factor in the number of overall MLB teams during every given year of each team's existence. In other words, it was statistically easier to win a pennant/title from 1903 to 1960 when there were only 16 teams, rather than the 18 teams in 1961, the 20 teams from 1962 to 1968, the 24 teams from 1969 to 1976, the 26 teams until '92, and 28/30 teams in the '90s. This kind of calculation goes beyond my decidedly amateur stats brain. Others are welcome to have at.)
So how likely is Cubs vs. Indians, the ultimate historic underdog showdown?
The 2016 numbers don't look bad. Cleveland was 4-3 against Toronto this year, while Cubs went 4-3 against LA.
More, the Cubs had the best run differential in baseball (+256), while the Indians were 4th-best (+101). Jays were 5th (+93), Dodgers 6th (+87).
But it's October, they're short series, and anything can happen. We find out starting tonight at 5 PM PST.
Killebrew Goes Deep in '71 All-Star Game
Mouse over for the follow-through:
In the early '90s I was living in a group home near Green Lake, with, among others, Alex, Parker and my good friend Mike Busick, Mr. B, who had a VHS recording of the '71 All-Star Game. One night, one hot stove league, I watched it. I knew it was the Reggie AS game (as opposed to the Pete Rose/Ray Fosse game from the previous year): the game in which Reggie, still in Oakland greens and without the pornstar 'stache he would wear in the Bronx, launched a monster homer off the transom in Tiger Stadium—one of the longest homeruns anyone's ever hit in the All-Star Game. Or anywhere, really.
What I didn't know? Five other players, all future Hall of Famers, went deep in that game: Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, and the man above. The wind was blowing strongly to right, and most of the homers went there. Not Killer's. His was launched into the wind and landed in the left-field bleachers. In Mr. B's room, when I saw it go out, I began to cheer like I was watching a live game. I cracked up Mr. B. “You do know this happened 20 years ago,” he said. It felt new all the same. I felt like a kid again.
But just look at that list. When these guys retired, they were, on the all-time homerun list, No.s 1 (Aaron), 4 (F. Robinson), 5 (Killebrew), and 6 (Jackson), while Bench had the most HRs for a catcher ever, and Clemente was a few months away from World Series glory, and 18 months away from his death flying relief supplies to earthquake victimes in Managua, Nicaragua.
Have six greater players ever hit homeruns in the same game? How could that even be possible?
The 300-Strikeout Pitchers
Sandy, Randy, and He.
First, here's the bigger trivia question. It's the one baseball fans can really mull over and have fun with at a bar with a friend:
Name the 15 pitchers in the modern era (post-1900) who have struck out 300 or more batters in a season.
Some you'll get right away (Koufax, Ryan, Randy, Feller). Some take a while (Richard, Schilling). Some you might not get (Blue, Scott).
Here are a few follow-up trivia questions that I think are a little more interesting:
- In which three decades of the modern era did no pitcher strike out 300 batters in a season?
- In which decade did the most pitchers strike out 300 batters?
- Who was the first pitcher to strike out 300 or more batters in different decades?
- 1920s, '30s, '50s
- 1970s: six pitchers, 11 times (no other decade is close)
- Sudden Sam McDowell: 1965, 1970
Here's the chart:
|1900s||2||Rube Waddell (2)|
|1910s||2||Walter Johnson (2)|
|1960s||4||Sandy Koufax (3)||Sam McDowell|
|1970s||11||Sam McDowell||Mickey Lolich||Vida Blue|
|Steve Carlton||Nolan Ryan (5)||J.R. Richard (2)|
|1980s||2||Mike Scott||Nolan Ryan|
|1990s||7||Randy Johnson (3)||Curt Schilling (2)||Pedro Martinez (2)|
|2000s||4||Randy Johnson (3)||Curt Schilling|
What happened in the 1970s? I assume it's some combo of the easy targets from expansion franchises (four joined MLB in 1969) and starting ptichers going long into games; before the rise of relief specialists. In the '90s the whiffs went up all around baseball, and you had three dominant strikeout pitchers that tended to last long into games, but since then (despite all the Ks) we've entered a fallow 300-K period again.
The fallowest period was the first six decades of the 20th century, when only three pitchers managed to strike out 300+ in a season: Waddell, Johnson, Feller. Then expansion came, Koufax arrived, and we were off to the races.
Last year we had Kershaw squeaking over with 301. This year, with a month to go, Max Scherzer, helped by a 20-strikeout perfromance against Detroit in July, leads the Majors with 227. That's 73 away. He averages about 8.4 Ks per game and looks to have another seven or so games to pitch. That's about 15 short. And the Nats have no more games scheduled against Detroit.
A-Rod's Last Game...in Pinstripes Anyway
Will the last player retiring from Major League Baseball please turn out the lights?
Seriously, suddenly it seems like everyone's going like that. It's not Derek Jeter's farewell tour, which seemed to last for-fucking-ever. This month it's: Mark Teixeira is done in September. Prince Fielder is done now. Oh, and Alex Rodriguez is done now, too. So sayeth the Yankees.
There's a story with A-Rod that we're not hearing yet—the way the Yankees forced him out so quickly, with so little fanfare, with such disrespect, four homeruns shy of a mythical 700. It's not befitting the way one of the best goes out. Or maybe the best do go out this way: Both Babe Ruth (after age and owner lies and a trade to the Boston Braves) and Ken Griffey Jr. (after age and rumors and negative reports) retired on the same day, June 2, exactly 75 years apart. They were here and then they were gone. Not everybody gets the year-long birthday party Jeter got.
In the first plate appearance of his last game, Alex hit a line-drive RBI double in the gap; then a few 6-3s, a K, and Joe Girardi let him play third for one ceremonial out in the 9th. I'm glad he got the double. Suddenly I wanted better for him. Suddenly I was rooting for him. But even the weather was against him. It literally rained on his parade—his pregame ceremony. It got cut short. People had to run for cover. Words were left unsaid.
Grabbing dirt, post-game: a fan again.
At the start of the year, per my annual slideshow, A-Rod was the active leader in nine batting categories. Who's taking over? Mostly Albert, with a little bit of Adrian, and an Ichiro and a Ryan tossed in:
- Games: Adrian Beltre (2676)
- At-Bats: Adrian Beltre (10,134)
- Hits: Ichiro (3,002)
- Home runs: Albert Pujols (581)
- RBIs: Albert Pujols (1785)
- Runs: Albert Pujols (1647)
- Strikeouts: Ryan Howard (1810)
- Walks: David Oritz (1299) --> Albert Pujols (1208)
- Career WAR: Albert Pujols (100.7)
A-Rod retires 3rd all-time in RBIs, 4th all-time in homeruns, 5th in strikeouts, 6th in total bases, 6th in extra-base hits, 8th in runs, 14th in HBP, 20th in hits, 25th in games played, 25th in slugging percentage, 30th in doubles, 35th in walks, and 37th in OPS. He won three MVP awards, and should've won five. He's got a ring. There were two PED scandals. He was booed forever and even before the PEDs. It was the $252 million contract, the Slap Heard 'Round the World, the aura. He seemed to love himself too much but it was probably the opposite. He always seemed aware of himself in the moment. Part of himself seemed outside himself, watching. How did he play at that level that way? He actually seemed vulnerable. I've never seen a great baseball player so poorly outfitted with “fuck you” armor.
So much coulda woulda shoulda.
Even his retirement is in quotes. He's gone from the Yankees but maybe some other team will take him, and give him a shot at 700. We've got a month and a half of the season to go. I think that would be a great farewell: making noise, and gate receipts, for some team other than the Yankees.
Stay Rod: How Alex Rodriguez Finally Became Us
Jeter gets feted for a year, A-Rod doesn't even get a two-week notice.
I find myself late in life rooting for Alex Rodriguez. That's how awful the Yankees are; that's how much they suck. They make A-Rod sympathetic.
I still don't get his quick, easy dismissal from the Yankees and possibly from Major League Baseball. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, David Ortiz, all of these guys go on season-long farewell tours; they're feted and gifted in opposition ballparks. We're forced to listen to encomium after encomium. A-Rod, four homers shy of 700, gets a Sunday presser in which the Yankees announce with as little fanfare as possible that his last game is Friday. See ya, don't wanna be ya. They're on a youth movement, sure, but even Mark Teixeira gets to last the year. So what happened behind the scenes? I'm not the only one wondering this.
It makes you feel a little sorry for the guy. It shouldn't have been like this.
I remember when teenaged girls screamed for him—the summer of '96. They brought placards to the Kingdome that read “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel.” Sometimes when he came to bat it was like Sinatra in '43, the Beatles in '64.
Here's the profile I wrote about him back for the April 1999 issue of The Grand Salami, the Mariners alternative fan magazine. I've highlighted a few things that feel a little ironic and sad now:
Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez (3)
Nickname: A-Rod; Young Buck
Born: 7-27-75 in New York, NY
Family: Don’t worry, he’s still single
Signed thru: 2000 season
Agent: Scott Boras
Acquired: M's first pick (first pick overall) of 1993 draft
Major League Debut: July 8, 1994
Quote: “I think that character is what proves out over a long season.”
He’s Kid Dynamite, Superman, the Flash. He goes 40-40 from the middle infield and lunges sinking stuff over the opposite field wall. Wherever he travels opposition managers scowl, pitchers worry, and teenage girls squeal. He’s one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World and the most protected great hitter in the game. He was so good, so young, that it seems he’s even managed to stay younger longer than the rest of us. And he’s all ours for another two years. Then? That’s been the great guessing game in the sports press lately. Seattle can’t afford both Griffey and A-Rod, the reasoning goes, and Griffey seems a likelier candidate to stick around. So whither A-Rod? Cubbies? Dodger Blue? The latest rumor swirls around the Mets—so he and Jeter can pal around New York together. Think they’ll get any dates?
Yeah yeah, I had a bad encounter with him. Yeah yeah, the way he left us for all that dough, then whined about being on a losing team, then finagled a trade to the team that kept winning, the Yankees, then didn't win with them for a number of years. I guess that was just desserts. His first year with them was the year they did what no team had never done: lose a 7-game series after being up 3 games to none. A-Rod contributed with the slap heard 'round the world. He hit 2 HRs in that series, with an .895 OPS, after crushing the Twins with a 1.213 OPS in the ALDS, but Yankee fans are spoiled shits, and he got a rep for choking. He didn't for the Ms in the postseason but he subsequently did for the Yankees. He sucked in the ALDSes in 2005 and '06 and was only so-so in 2007. Quick exits, all. Good times. Then the revelations of PEDs. The banishment. The boos. They didn't like him much in the Bronx. They cheered him a bit in 2009, sure, when they helped them win the World Series again, but that was an anomaly. He kept trying to win their hearts but their hearts were with Jeter, the man who wouldn't move over for the better shortstop. That was Yankee fans' ”team player.“ Is it A-Rod's lot in life to leave where he's beloved and stay where he's booed? There's tragedy there; he feels Shakespearean.
If you go by Baseball Reference's WAR, Alex Rodriguez is the 12th-greatest position player to ever play the game, sandwiched between Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. He should be a legend, but he's leaving as a footnote. Jeter left as a spoiled child, with parties everywhere, with his childish antics about getting a game-winning hit in his last, meaningless game in the Bronx. Alex just feels like he's been downsized. They didn't even have the courtesy to give him a two-week notice. He's the company man the company doesn't give a shit about. He's finally us.
Here's what I wrote about him in August 2000:
Is there a publication that isn't writing about Alex? Even the Wall Street Journal (August 11th) got into the act. Freelancer Allen Barra gushed, ”Simply put, he is the most irreplaceable player in the major leagues. He is a more effective hitter than Mr. Griffey and a much better fielder and base-runner than Mr. Piazza. He hits with more power than Mr. Jeter...“ Love all that ”Mr." talk. One thing that the fact-checking Journal got wrong, though, was its assertion that Mr. Rodriguez might stay in Seattle because Safeco Field is a hitter's park. Um, no. But winning's #1 with Mr. Rodriguez and the Mariners are winning. And Mr. Gillick's smart enough to keep signing the players that can keep us winning, and Mr. Rodriguez is smart enough to know that. And who knows? Maybe M's owners (Messrs. all) are smart enough to move in the fences a little if it means keeping our Mr. Rodriguez. I.e., Stay Rod.
Not to be. Godspeed, Alex.