Monday September 07, 2020
Lou Brock (1939-2020)
Tom Seaver four days ago and now Lou Brock? 2020 just takes and it takes and it takes.
Twenty-plus years ago, when I wrote a Star Trek novel for my friend Tim, I named the ship after his favorite baseball player: the U.S.S. Brock. I called it “the fastest ship in the galaxy,” but according to Joe Posnanski, in his tribute, Brock wasn’t really the fastest base stealer—just the smartest. He set the single-season stolen base record not when he was young but when he was 35. It was all about reading pitchers and going.
I just missed his World Series heyday. In the 1964 World Series against the Yankees, he hit .300 with two doubles and a homer, but that was piker stuff. Three years later, against the BoSox, he hit .414, slugged .655 and stole seven bases—a World Series record. 1968 looked to be even better. After five games, he was hitting .524 (11 for 21) and slugging 1.048, with two homers and—again—seven stolen bases. I caught up with these exploits when I read Roger Angell’s “The Summer Game.” His account of the ’68 Series is punctuated throughout with Brock stealing second before he writes this:
Sunday's game, played in a light-to-heavy Grand Banks rainstorm and won by the Cardinals, 10-1, offered several lessons, all of them unappreciated by the Tigertowners. (1) Lou Brock does not always steal second. He led off the game with a homer, tripled and scored in the fourth, grounded out in the sixth, and then doubled and stole third in the eighth. It was his seventh stolen base of the Series, tying the record he set last year against Boston.
But it was in the fifth game when things turned. The Cards were up three games to one, and leading this one 3-0 when Brock got caught stealing—the first time that had happened in any World Series. That’s right: He’d been 14 for 14. Cards were still up 3-2 when he hit a one-out double in the 5th and might have scored on a Julian Javier single but didn’t slide. He came up again in the 9th, two on, two out, down by two, and grounded out to end the game. The next game, a Tigers blowout, he went 1-4 with an error. Game 7 he went 1-3 but got picked off first. You can’t be golden all the time. Even so, if you’re doing an All-Star World Series team, he’s the guy you want.
He was signed by Buck O’Neill, chafed in a poorly run Cubs organization, and in one of the most lopsided deals in baseball history was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he prospered. Ernie Broglio, who nearly won a Cy Young in 1960 (21-9, 2.74 ERA), is known today as the guy the Cubs got for Brock. In Chicago, Broglio lasted three seasons and went 7-9 with a 5.40 ERA. Brock lasted 16 years in St. Louis, hit .297, stole 888 bases—for a lifetime total of 938—and became a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Do we say “Rest in peace” here or keep going? Read the pitcher and go.
Saturday September 05, 2020
Tom Seaver (1944-2020)
Tom Seaver debuted around the same time I began to go to baseball games with my dad (1967), and his final year in the Majors was the year before I graduated college (1986), but I never got to see him pitch in person. I was in an American League city and he was a National League star. I guess his final three years werein the AL (ChiSox, BoSox), but by then the Twins were in a dome, I was in college, and I wasn’t paying much attention.
But man did he loom. Saying Tom Seaver died is like saying a piece of the sky is gone.
In 1969 my best friend Ben’s family moved east, to Leonia, New Jersey, and when I saw him again he was a Mets fan and couldn’t stop talking about Tom Seaver. I felt so betrayed. I think I resented Seaver for a time. Stupid pudgy face. He’s not so great. But he was. Rookie of the Year his first year, Cy Young his third, Cy again in ’73 and ’75.
From ’69 to ’77, this is where he placed in Cy Young voting: first, second, seventh, fifth, first, nothing, first, eighth, third. During that time he led the league in wins twice, ERA twice, strikeouts five times, and WHIP three times. His bWAR for pitchers is seventh-highest all time (106), and the only guy above him who played after World War II is Roger Clemens, who carries his own baggage. Tom Terrific was clean-cut and clean. He just had tree-trunk legs. When he went into the Hall in ’92, it was with the highest vote percentage in history: 98.8%. Nobody surpassed it until Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016.
I just came across this controversy: When the Mets built Citi Field, they named the street after him (address: 41 Seaver Way) but there weren’t any statues. Most new ballparks have statues. Even old ballparks. Wrigley Field has statues for Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and announcer Harry Caray, but the Mets have none. Apparently this is being rectified now and it should. Seaver is the best player in Mets history and it’s not close. His bWAR while he was a Met is 78.8. Second best? David Wright, 49.2. Then Gooden at 46.4. No one else is within half of Seaver.
The New York Times says Lewy body dementia with Covid complications. This fucking year, man.
Friday August 07, 2020
Menand on Gehrig
I normally love Louis Menand's writing but his June article on baseball players and celebrity—specifically Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and PR man Christy Walsh*—was a little meh. Maybe a reader can know too much about a subject. Example: When Menand went into how baseball used to be small ball, a base at a time, before Ruth, I could feel my eyes glazing over. But I still learned a few things—chiefly that Gehrig got the nickname “The Iron Horse” from New York Sun columnist Will Wedge in 1931. I like those details.
(*How interesting that the name of Gehrig's PR man was a mashup of two of the best pitchers in the first decade of the 20th century. ... OK, interesting to me.)
But Menand's ending, about “the speech,” made me tear up:
The announcer told the crowd that Gehrig was too moved to say anything, but a chant went up, and so he walked to the microphone. Eleanor later said that he had written an outline just in case; he clearly had some sentences memorized. Amazingly, only four of those sentences have been recorded and survive. Versions of the whole speech that you read have been pieced together from newspaper stories.
But we do have Gehrig's voice at the start. “For the past two weeks, you've been reading about a bad break,” he says. “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” And at the end: “I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for.” There is nothing self-pitying in the speech, no self-denial, no defiance. He is helping other people get through his pain. This was not colorless or boring. This was a man looking at death. In an age of showmen, in the very House That Ruth Built, it was a transcendent moment of selflessness.
He is helping other people get through his pain. Holy hell that's good.
Monday July 27, 2020
MLB Hits Covid Snag After 3 Games
This morning, when I heard that the Yankees-Phillies came was suspended because the Phils had been playing the Marlins and a Covid outbreak has been reported among players and coaches on the Marlins, I tweeted the following:
I blame Derek Jeter.
I was joking. Jeter is part owner and full-time corporate spokesman for the Marlins, not to mention my frequent bete noir, but I wasn't really blaming him. Half an hour later, he was trending because many fans were. So I deleted the tweet. You‘re welcome, Derek.
How much do I want to watch baseball these days? Yesterday, I watched the Diamondbacks vs. the Padres. That’s how much I want to watch baseball. (Tyler Kepner chronicles some of the joys of that first weekend here.) I was even beginning to think that maybe I was wrong and the short season might work out after all. Here's what I wrote earlier this month:
Sorry, I just can't see it working. What if a player contracts Covid during the season? How long must he be in quarantine? How long will his team be in quarantine and what will that do to the schedule? Do they forfeit games? Do they try to make them up? What if this happens during the World Series? And imagine if a player dies. The U.S. is currently averaging 50k confirmed cases a day. Just don't see it working. Hope I'm wrong.
The worst part of the report—and one of the reasons many were angry at Jeter—is that some players tested positive yesterday and played the game anyway. WTF? What protocols has MLB put in place? Is there no one in charge of this ride? Craig Calcaterra has a good short piece about the confusion on NBC Sports, “Derek Jeter's statement about the Marlins COVID-19 outbreak raises more questions,” and he begins it by quoting CEO Jeter:
The health of our players and staff has been and will continue to be our primary focus as we navigate through these uncharted waters.
Calcaterra then adds this graf, which is about the smartest graf I‘ve seen about corporate America in years:
The “____ is our top priority” form of corporate statement is always — always — deployed when the thing the business is claiming to be its top priority has been manifestly compromised. If a plane crashes, “safety is our top priority.” If employees are mistreated, “the well-being of our workers is our top priority.” If there’s a chemical or oil spill, “responsible environmental practices are our top priority.” It's become such a cliche that it's hard to take that bit of businesspeak even remotely seriously.
If you're on Twitter, follow Craig Calcaterra.
I still want to be wrong.
Tuesday July 07, 2020
‘Sports Are the Reward of a Functioning Society’
“We‘re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people. We‘re way worse off as a country than where we were in March when we shut this thing down. And look at where other developed countries are in their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functional society, and we‘re trying to just bring it back, even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve.
”We did flatten the curve for a little bit, but we didn't use that time to do anything productive. We just opened back up for Memorial Day. We decided we‘re done with it. Like, if there aren’t sports, it's gonna be because people are not wearing masks because the response to this has been so politicized.
“We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands. We can't just have virus fatigue and think, ‘Well, it’s been four months. We‘re over it. This has been enough time, right? We’ve waited long enough, shouldn't sports come back now?'”
Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle, on the third day of MLB camp, speaking the truth in a way few in the media do. He nails it all: 1) We‘re worse off than in March because, 2) we (particularly Trump) didn’t do anything productive during that time, but 3) we felt like 3-4 months is enough so party on, Wayne. This is how America ends: Not with a bang but with a kegger.
Monday July 06, 2020
Opening Day 2020: Your Active Leaders
SLIDESHOW: Sorry, I just can't see it working. What if a player contracts Covid during the season? How long must he be in quarantine? How long will his team be in quarantine and what will that do to the schedule? Do they forfeit games? Do they try to make them up? What if this happens during the World Series? And imagine if a player dies. The U.S. is currently averaging 50k confirmed cases a day. Just don't see it working. Hope I'm wrong. In the meantime, we‘ll always have stats. Here’s MLB's active leaders.
BATTING AVERAGE: For the sixth year in a row, it's Miggy. He's at .3146 while Jose Altue is a tidge below at .3145. Oddly, Miggy had that .0001 advantage last season as well but they both fell off at the same pace. There are currently 10 active players with career BAs over .300 but for the first time since 2001 one of them is not named Albert Pujols. His eighth season in a row below .300, and fourth overall below .250, finally knocked his career mark to .299. For the record, Miggy's .3146 is 70th all-time, just behind Lew Fonseca.
ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: We‘re about to see a changing of this guard. Joey Votto has been the active leader in OBP since 2013, but last season he posted the worst OBP of his career: .357. True, his OBP over the last four seasons is still .418, and only one other active player is over .400, but that one is Mike Trout, who, over the last four seasons, has an OBP of .445. Right now it’s Votto .421 to Trout's .419. Expect change.
SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Speaking of: Trout's at .581 and no one else is over .550. Can Trout reach .600 career? At least for a time? Maybe. His numbers for the last three seasons: .629, .628 and .645.
OPS: Again, it's Trout and no one else. He's at .999 while the second-place finisher is Joey Votto 60 points back at .940. The other five active players above .900 are: Miggy (.935), Albert (.927), Paul Goldschmidt (.915), Giancarlo (.905) and Kris Bryant (.900).
GAMES: Only eight players have ever played 3,000 career games (Rose, Yaz, Hank, Rickey, Ty, Stan, Eddie, Cal), but Uncle Albert might join them. He's 177 games short at 2,823 with two years left on his contract. OK, one and a half. Only three other actives have played in more than 2,000 games: Miggy at exactly 2,400, Cano at 2,185 and Nick Markakis at 2,117.
HITS: Same four, same order: Albert (3,202), Cabrera (2,815), Cano (2,570) and Nick Markakis (2,355). Miggy has a shot at three-thou if he stays healthy (he stopped hitting for power last season but didn't stop hitting), while Markakis has never had 200 hits in a season but seems a few good seasons from knocking on 3,000. Has that ever happened? A player with no 200-hit seasons but 3,000 career? Just looked it up. These guys: Cap Anson, Carl Yastrzemski, Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray and Rickey Henderson.
DOUBLES: Pujols is seventh all-time with 661, and just 8 more would put him past Brett and Biggio into fifth place. Only four guys have ever hit 700: Speaker, Rose, Cobb, Musial. Can Albert reach that? He's hit 42 over the last two seasons, but between age and Covid I'm not sure. Miggy's got 577, Cano 562.
TRIPLES: With Curtis Granderson retiring, Dexter Fowler takes over as the active leader in triples with 82. When was the last time the active leader in triples had so few? 1883. When a dude named Tom York had 80. Here's a nice bar bet: Name the 4 active leaders in triples. After Fowler it's Brett Gardner (huh), then Dee Gordon (I can see that), who is tied with ... Hunter Pence??? Those are the only guys with more than 50. Somewhere, Wahoo Sam sheds a tear.
HOMERUNS: Pujols (656) is set to pass Willie Mays (660) for fifth on the all-time list, while Miggy is second on the actives with 477. Last season two guys hit their 400th: Edwin Encarnacison, 414, and my man Nellie Cruz, 401. The only other guys above 300 career are Ryan Braun (344), Robinson Cano (324), Jay Bruce (312) and Giancarlo Stanton (308). Yeah, Jay Bruce. Who knew?
RBIs: One more RBI, just one, and Pujols moves past Cap Anson (2,075) and into sole possession of 4th place on the all-time list. A dozen more and he moves past A-Rod (2,086) for third. Then it gets trickier. At that point he‘ll be 127 from tying Babe Ruth and 210 from Hank Aaron. How does it feel to be among the gods? I guess tiring.
RUNS: He’s less godlike on the runs scored at 1,828 or 17th all-time. Then it's the usual active suspects: Miggy (1,429), Cano (1,234) and Markakis (1,104). Mike Trout, the young buck, is currently 16th among actives with 903 after just nine seasons. Nice ratio. The record is Rickey Henderson: 2,295.
BASES ON BALLS: I used to think Albert had a greating batting eye but it looks like he walked so much because pitchers were afraid of him. Now they‘re not. In St. Louis he averaged 89 walks per season; with the Angels, 43. Yes, his plate appearances are down, but only slightly: 676 vs. 600. His intentional walks are way down. In 2009 he was IBBed 44 times. Last season, once. But he’s still on top here with 1,322 career. Then it's Votto (1,180) and Miggy (1,135). They‘re the only active players with more than 1,000.
STRIKEOUTS: Since Mark Reynolds retired in April, his 1,927 career Ks (9th all-time) is no longer topping our list. Now the honor goes to Chris Davis, whose 1,835 is 18th all-time. Justin Upton is second in actives Ks with 1,798, Miggy third with 1,761. Observation: There was a time when the active leader in K’s was a sure HOFer: Ruth, Foxx, Ott, Mantle, Killebrew, Stargell, Jackson. Now it's just as likely to be a Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn or Chris Davis.
STOLEN BASES: Ichiro's retired, Jose Reyes and Jacoby Ellsbury are unsigned, and Rajai Davis is ... who knows? So the active leader is the Seattle Mariners' own Dee Gordon with 330. When was the last time the active leader had that few? 1963, when Luis Aparicio had 309. Then Maury Wills zipped past him as active leader before passing the baton to Lou Brock, who passed it onto Campy, and onto Joe Morgan, and onto, yeah, Rickey who owned it for a while. SBs are sadly not a thing anymore. Even Billy Hamilton is slowing down.
GROUNDED INTO DOUBLE PLAYS: The active leader is the all-time leader, Albert with 395. He's 45 ahead of Cal Ripken on the all-time chart and 77 ahead of Miggy on the active list. Then, for active players, it's Cano (277), Yadier (254), Markakis (209), Zimmerman (203).
DEFENSIVE WAR: I have issues with this stat. Andrelton Simmons has 26.7 dWAR after eight seasons while Yadier Molina is second with 25.0 after 16 seasons? Is eight seasons of the best defensive shortstop really worth 16 of the best defensive catcher? You try crouching all day. They‘re also the only actives > 20. Hell, Andrelton is 14th all-time in this category. He just passed Gary Carter and Bob Boone. I guess?
WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: What’s a good bWAR cutoff for the Hall? Seems about 70. It's cuspy there: Gary Carter, Barry Larkin, Ron Santo. There are first-ballot guys below you (Tony Gwynn, 69.2) and underrated guys ahead of you (Bobby Grich, 71.1; Lou Whitaker 75.1). But you‘ll definitely be in the conversation. Albert’s in, of course, at 100.8. Trout, too: 72.8. I assume Miggy (69.5) is in for the counting numbers and triple crowns and MVPs. His black ink is 43 vs. 27 for a typical HOFer. Cano (68.0) takes a ding for testing positive for banned substances and for being low on black ink numbers (1).
WINS: Will C.C. Sabathia be the last pitcher to notch 250 career wins or will Justin Verlander, the active leader at 225, bust that mark? He led the Majors last year with 21, and another year like that and he's a cinch. But he's 37 and the cliff can come fast. Second on the active list is Zack Greinke with 205. Then it's Jon Lester (190), Max Scherzer (170) and Clayton Kershaw (169). The probably-done Felix Hernandez also has 169.
ERA: In the last two seasons, Kershaw posted ERAs of 2.73 and 3.03 and his career mark went down: from 2.36 to 2.44. When was the last time his career ERA went down two years in a row? It's never happened. But he's still way up on top here. Second is Jacob deGrom with a shockingly good 2.62. Third is Chris Sale with 3.02. Who was the last starting pitcher to retire with a career ERA under 3.00? Jim Palmer maybe? Anyone?
STRIKEOUTS: Justin Verlander nudged over the 3,000 mark at the end of last season and leads the active parade with 3,006. He also has only 850 walks. Back in the day, the only pitcher with > 3,000 Ks and < 1,000 BBs was Fergie Jenkins. In the last two decades, he was joined by Maddux, Shilling, Pedro. Could JV make it an even five? Maybe. (Last season he gave up 42 freebies.) Second and third in active Ks are neck and neck: Scherzer/Greinke: 2,692/2,622. Both are in the 600s in walks.
BASES ON BALLS: JV's 850, followed by Ubaldo Jiminez's 848 (if he still counts) and then Jon Lester's 820. The last time the active leader had fewer than 850 BBs? When Walter Johnson had 845 in 1920.
INNINGS PITCHED: Verlander needs two complete games to get to 3,000. He's at 2,982. He‘ll be the 137th guy to do it. Greinke’s not far behind. Then it's Felix (if he returns), Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer. The most IPs for someone in their 20s? Madison Bumgarner with 1,846. He's 29, though, and 30 on August 1.
COMPLETE GAMES: Every year of the 20th century some pitcher threw double-digit CGs. Every year. Then the calendar flipped and the CGs just disappeared. It's like in John Updike's “Rabbit Is Rich” when the ‘70s turn into the ’80s and disco just goes POOF. In the 21st century, only two pitchers have thrown double-digit CGs: C.C. in 2008 (10) and James Shields in 2011 (11). Now it's hardly a stat. Who led the league in CGs last season? Two pitchers tied with 3: Rookies Lucas Giolito and Shane Bieber. The active leader is JV with 27—only 722 behind all-time leader Cy Young.
SHUTOUTS: As recently as the ‘90s the active leader (Nolan Ryan) had 60+. As recently as the 2000s the active leader (Roger Clemens) had 40+. Now it’s Clayton Kershaw's 15, and he's been stuck on 15 since 2016. The only other active pitcher w/double digits (if Felix doesn't count) is Adam Wainwright with 10. All-time leader is Walter Johnson with 110.
SAVES: Top 3 are Craig Kimbrel (346), Kenley Jansen (301) and Aroldis Chapman (273). 24-year-old Roberto Osuna is in 7th place with 154. 25-year-old Edwin Diaz is in 12th place with 137. He ran into same issues last season, though. I still miss him.
WAR FOR PITCHERS: Usual suspects: Verlander (72.1), Greinke (65.9), Kershaw (65.3). Are they all HOFers or is the jury still out on Greinke? What about the dude in fourth place: Cole Hamels (58.5). What if he has 3-4 more seasons like his 3.2 WAR season last year? Nah. Like Cano, not enough black ink.
EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW): Be safe, everybody. *FIN*
Sunday June 21, 2020
As member of SABR, I get daily trivia questions, called “horsehide trivia,” which, weekly, add up to a particular theme. Last week, for example, some of the answers included: Nolan Ryan (Monday's answer), Bob Gibson (Tuesday‘s), Dick Bosman (Saturday) and Bob Moose (Sunday). What do they have in common? They all pitched no-hitters, sure, but it’s more than that. They all pitched no-hitters against that year's eventual World Series champion. Yes, you‘ve got to get pretty deep in the weeds.
Daily is a better fit for me. I think I got Ryan here on first glance:
Q. Who is the all-time career leader in fewest hits allowed per nine innings pitched?
Hint: He received a highest Hall of Fame voting percentage in the twentieth century except for that of an old teammate.
Hint: He was the first player to suit up for all four of the original expansion franchises.
Hint: In fact, those were the only ones he suited up for.
From the first hint you go “Seaver,” so Mets, Reds or White Sox. Second hint means Mets. Also means he played for Angels, Astros and Senators/Rangers. So ... Ryan. And yes, he didn’t give up many hits. Walks, yes. Hits, no.
The dailies are tougher when the answer isn't such a well-known player, of course, but I was tickled by this final hint on the Bosman question: “On another occasion he became the fourth of the five pitchers to have their no-hitters broken up by a lone Cesar Tovar hit.” I was tickled more by the way they answered it the next day:
“In an utterly unimaginable defying of the odds, Venezuela's uniquely versatile and ultra-durable Cesar Tovar had the lone hit five different times, ruining no-hitters for Barry Moore on 30-Apr-1967, Dave McNally on 15-May-1969, Mike Cuellar on 10-Aug-1969, Bosman on 14-Aug-1970 and finally Catfish Hunter on 31-May-1975. Somebody above my pay grade would have to calculate the odds of that happening.”
The picture below, with Billy Martin, is from 1969, the year he stopped the two Oriole no-nos:
Bosman's true no-no, by the way, came in ‘74 against the past and future world champion Oakland A’s.
Saturday June 06, 2020
Most Gold Gloves this Century?
Nope, not this guy.
This week's SABR “Horsehide” trivia questions have focused on Gold Glove winners, and for some reason, the other day, I decided to check out who has won the most this century. I guess it was because I knew the all-time dudes but not the recent ones.
Here are the winners, by position, for this century. Turns out most of them aren't recent:
- P: Greg Maddux* (8)
- C: Yadier Molina (9)
- 1B: Mark Teixeira (5)
- 2B: Dustin Pedroia and Orlando Hudson (4)
- 3B: Scott Rolen and Nolan Arenado (7)
- SS: Derek Jeter** (5)
- OF: Torii Hunter (9)
- OF: Jim Edmonds (6)
- OF: Ichiro Suzuki (10)
* Also the all-time leader, in any position, with 18
** The shame of the nation
Of the 11 guys, eight are retired, and two more are near it: Pedroia, who's had all of 31 at-bats over the last two seasons, and Molina, who turns 38 in a month. Only Arenado is the up-and-comer, and boy is he. Seven seasons in the bigs, seven gold gloves. Not many other up-and-comers in their 20s. Mookie Betts, I guess, who's 27 and has won it the last four years. Zack Greinke's won it the last six seasons but those are his only six, and he didn't start winning it until he was in his 30s.
Anyway, there's our answer to the title question: Ichiro, with 10, has won the most Gold Gloves this century. The shocking ommission, to me, is Adrian Beltre. He did win it five times, which is nothing to sneeze at, but sporadically: 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2016. Meanwhile, his career defensive bWAR is 27.2, which is the 13th best all-time, and second-best for a third baseman after the legendary Brooks Robinson. But he has the same number of Gold Gloves as Derek Jeter, whose defensive bWAR is ... wait for it ... -9.4. Yes, that's a negative in front of the nine. So is anyone on his tail? Yes: Andrelton Simmons has four: two in the NL (2013, 2014), two in the AL (2017, 2018). He seems to deserve them, too: 26.7 defensive bWAR. C'mon, kid.
Saturday May 23, 2020
Make-Up Calls and Joe's Top 60 Baseball Moments
A few potential great moments between these three.
Before he began listing off his 60 greatest moments in baseball history, Joe Posnanski offered the following caveats:
These 60 Moments are not the most important moments in baseball history. Yes, there are some important moments in here, some that you will no doubt expect. But let me give you advance warning: There are a bunch of important moments that are not in here. You can start your rage engines now.
Instead, these are 60 Moments that, to me, best express the joy and wonder of the game. They are touching. They are silly. They are goosebumpy. They are game-changing. There are a lot of surprises, I hope. Even some of the most famous moments might have an unexpected twist or two.
And, I will admit, I did adjust the list so I could highlight some of the greatest players who did not quite make the Baseball 100. I hope that will be fun.
He ain't kidding on this last part. I mean, Jim Palmer outdueling Sandy Koufax in Game 2 of the 1966 World Series? That's on no one's list. But Palmer wasn't on Joe's top 100 players list so it's here at No. 43. Or Jim Thome hitting a walk-off homerun off Troy Percival in August 2000? Thome's swing is iconic and beloved, and I loved finding out from Joe that Thome hit more walkoff homeruns (13) than anyone in baseball history (second place: 12, shared by Babe Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson). But the 2000 walkoff at No. 39? Ahead of the pine-tar game or the final day of the 2011 season or Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game? Nah. Unless, of course, you‘re following Joe’s make-up-call proviso above.
Quick question: What do Palmer and Thome have in common? They‘re two of the 12 first-ballot Hall of Famers that didn’t make Joe's top 100 list.
Keep in mind there have been 57 such players, so if you have a top 100 list and wanted to include them all, that leaves just 43 remaining spots. Plus the first-balloters are a more recent phenomenon. The first five were the first five inductees in 1936. We didn't get the sixth until 1962.
Here's the first-balloters by decade:
- 1930s: 5 (Ruth, Cobb, W. Johnson, Young, Wagner)
- 1940s: 0
- 1950s: 0
- 1960s: 4 (Feller, J. Robinson, T. Williams, Musial)
- 1970s: 5 (Koufax, Spahn, Mantle, Banks, Mays)
- 1980s: 10 (Kaline, Gibson, Aaron, F. Robinson, B. Robinson, Brock, McCovey, Stargell, Bench, Yastrzemski)
- 1990s: 10 (Palmer, Morgan, Carew, Seaver, R. Jackson, Carlton, Schmidt, Ryan, Brett, Yount)
- 2000s: 10 (Winfield, Puckett, O. Smith, E. Murray, Eckersley, Molitor, Boggs, Ripken, Gwynn, R. Henderson)
- 2010s: 14 (Glavine, Maddux, F. Thomas, Smoltz, R. Johnson, P. Martinez, Griffey, I. Rodriguez, Thome, C. Jones, Halladay, Rivera)
- 2020s: 1 (Jeter)
And here are the 12 Joe didn't include in his top 100 list, ranked by bWar score:
|Player||Year||HOF %||bWAR||bWAR Rank|
I don't know about top 100 but you certainly see possibilities for 60 greatest moments: Halladay's postseason no-no, Stargell's decisive homerun in Game 7 of the ‘79 Series, Kirby’s great Game 6 (catch/walkoff) in ‘91, Brock stealing seven bases and hitting .414 in the ’67 Series. And on and on.
At the same time, I wish he hadn't gone this route on his 60 moments list. I wish he'd just kept it personal; the moments that, to him, best express the joy and wonder of the game: A Personal Journey with Joe Posnanski Through Baseball's 60 Greatest Moments. Instead, some of his choices are like an umpire's make-up call; and as that great philosopher Durwood Merrill once said, “I don't believe in make-up calls. Because then I would've gotten it wrong twice.”
Sunday May 17, 2020
Well, this made my day.
For the past few weeks, Joe Posnanski has been counting down the 60 greatest moments in baseball history, and today's is a nice one about Jim Palmer outdueling Sandy Koufax in Game 2 of the 1966 World Series. Thing is, it's not that famous a moment. It's not as famous as, say, George Brett's pine-tar tirade (No. 44), or Yogi Berra's safe-at-home tirade (No. 47), but there it is at No. 43. Some part of me thinks Joe put it there because he left Palmer off his top 100 list. It's one of the glaring omissions but I kinda knew why he did it: Palmer's WAR numbers aren't Hall-of-Fame great. They‘re not as great as Palmer was. Which Joe writes about in today’s piece, along with what the various WARs might be missing. It's interesting stuff. So after reading the piece, I added a comment stating as much.
And then I got this.
You and I will just have to let it go. Stay safe!— Jim Palmer (@Jim22Palmer) May 18, 2020
How fun is that?
Friday April 17, 2020
Joe's Top 100: 1-10
Joe finished! Kudos.
So this is what I assumed the order would be vs. what it actually is:
|10||Oscar Charleston||Satchel Paige||n/a||n/a||P|
|9||Ted Williams||Stan Musial||128.2||11||OF|
|8||Walter Johnson||Ty Cobb||151||6||OF|
|7||Ty Cobb||Walter Johnson||164.3||2||P|
|6||Stan Musial||Ted Williams||123.1||14||OF|
|5||Hank Aaron||Oscar Charleston||n/a||n/a||OF|
|4||Satchel Paige||Hank Aaron||143||7||OF|
|3||Babe Ruth||Barry Bonds||162.8||4||OF|
|2||Barry Bonds||Babe Ruth||182.4||1||OF/P|
|1||Willie Mays||Willie Mays||156.4||5||OF|
See how Joe flipped the script with Stan the Man and the Splendid Splinter? The latter wore No. 9 and Joe made him #6; the former wore No. 6 and Joe made him #9. He must‘ve laughed to himself when he did that. I was actually fine with Joe’s predilection to rank a player by his uniform number: 45 for Pedro, 42 for Jackie, 31 for Maddux, 27 for Trout, 20 for Schmidt and Frank Robinson. Most wound up close to where they should be—with one exception: Tom Seaver at 41. Dude was better.
Most of my guesses were just flips of Joe's actuals: Satchel and Oscar, Ty and Walter, Bonds and Ruth. Can't believe I guessed Bonds second—I was disgusted enough when Joe chose him third. I totally ding Bonds for his absurd post-1998 numbers, his 35-40 years when, instead of declining, he grew to monstrous proportions and became The Incredible Bonds. BONDS SMASH PUNY BASEBALL. Nah. No chance. I give him cred for the earlier stuff but that's it. To me, Bonds is top 50, sure, but not top 10 and certainly not top 5. He's besmirched the record book. I will never forgive him.
And yeah, I know. Rankings, schmankings. Joe says the rankings are just a device in which to tell the stories—all the stories of fathers and sons, and America—what we were and what we became. Of course. And please read the stories if you get a chance, they‘re great. But rankings still matter. The delivery device still matters. We don’t argue about the stories, we argue about the rankings. That's the conversation.
But at least we ended where we needed to end; where we all hoped we would end. We made it home with the best of the best. Say hey.
Tuesday April 07, 2020
Al Kaline (1934-2020)
When I think of Al Kaline, I think of Bert Gordon, Realty.
Gordon was one of the title characters in Roger Angell's great article “Three for the Tigers,” which was published in The New Yorker in September 1973, as well as one of the talking heads kvelling Hank Greenberg in Aviva Kempner's great documentary “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.” I think of Gordon because early in the article, Angell describes Gordon going into his office in Oak Park, Michigan, on a Monday morning, taking off his shoes and sliding his feet “into a pair of faded blue espadrilles,” and then punching in numbers into a desk-model calculator, which, in my mind, is huge, heavy and metal, and which sits on a side table. He's calculating two things: as a Democrat, what percentage of Nixon's term in office remains (he doesn't know it yet, but he's going to catch a break there); and as a Tigers fan, what Al Kaline's lifetime batting average is. Over the weekend, Kaline went 1 for 7 against Minnesota, so on this Monday morning his lifetime average reads: .3000267. Angell writes: “Bert sighs, erases the figure, and picks up his telephone. He is ready to start his day.”
You should read the piece if you haven‘t. It’s available in the book “Five Seasons,” Angell's second compilation, where Angell includes an afterword. Gordon's first calculating ritual ended in August 1974 when Nixon resigned amid the disgrace of Watergate, the second when Al Kaline retired in October 1974. Before the Tigers last homegame, Oct. 2, Gordon realized late that he was missing his last chance to see Kaline in action, so he hopped in his car, caught Kaline's first at-bat (as DH) over the radio, and was heading into the stadium when he heard the roar accompanying Kaline's second. At least he'd catch the rest. Except that was it. In the bottom of the 5th, Ben Oglive pinch-hit for him. “The next morning,” Angell writes, “in his office, he punched out the final Kaline numbers: 10,116 at-bats, 3,007 hits, for a lifetime batting average of .297518.”
Kaline's last years were a battle between the counting numbers and the statistical ones. Yes, his lifetime batting average slipped below .300 at some point in 1973 (Bert could've told us exactly when), but on Sept. 24, 1974, he became just the 12th man in baseball history, and the first since Roberto Clemente, to reach 3,000 hits, with a double off Dave McNally at Memorial Stadium. It was his last extra-base hit. He fell just short of similar milestones in doubles (498) and homers (399).
When I think of Al Kaline, I also think of Harmon Killebrew. When I was a kid and began paying attention to baseball in 1969-1970, they were the eminence grises of two Midwest American League clubs: both white, quiet, somewhat bland, with “K” initials. They were also both very nice men. As a Twins fan, I assumed Killebrew was the better player. He was 1969 MVP, after all, and hit 500+ homers. But Kaline was by far the better fielder, winning 10 Gold Gloves, and bWar gives it to Kaline by a longshot: 92.8 (29th all-time among position players) vs. 60.4 for Killer. The Hall of Fame agreed. They kept making Killebrew knock before letting him in; Kaline got in his first time with 88% of the vote. He was the first Tiger to have his number retired, too, in 1980.
His best years were before I was born: 1955, when he led the majors with a .340 batting average; 1959, when he led in slugging and OPS; and 1961, when his 8.4 bWAR was third-best in the AL.
He died yesterday in his home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “No specific cause was given,” The New York Times reported.