erik lundegaard

Baseball posts

Thursday March 29, 2018

Opening Day 2018: Your Active Leaders

  • SLIDESHOW: There's been a lot of big, gladhanding retirements in the last few years that altered the active leaderboard: Mo after 2013, Derek Whatshisface a year later. Both Big Papi and A-Rod bowed out after the 2016 season. So which big names retired after 2017? None, really. It's all gray area. Jose Bautista? Mark Reynolds? Will they be back? Maybe? And how about Bartolo? He's on, then off, then on. That said, the big shift on the active leaderboard is mostly because of one guy, Albert Pujols, who's still playing, of course, and still on top of those counting numbers—like HRs. But his percentage numbers? It‘s the old Springsteen song.

  • BATTING AVERAGE: Miggy had the worst season of his career last year, hitting just .249, and dropping his career BA four points. But he remains on top. Barely. He’s at .3168, while up-and-comer Jose Altuve, last year's batting champ, is at .3164. Those two are followed by Joey Votto (.313) and Ichiro (.311); then nine guys between .300 and .310. When was the last time the active leader had a lower BA than .317? At the tail-end of the raised-mound era, when Rod Carew was at .316. It's the only other time in baseball history that the active leader in BA was this low.

  • ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: In 2010, Albert Pujols was the active leader in OBP with a .426 career mark. He's now in the seventh spot with a .386 career mark. His 2017 OBP was actually below .300—at .286. Meanwhile, Joey Votto's numbers keep going up. Last season's .454 raised his career mark to .428. That's 11th best all-time. The only other active player with a .400+ career OBP is Mike Trout at .409.

  • SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Speaking of... In 2006, when Trout was a sophomore at Millville Senior High School, the active leader in slugging was King Albert with a .628 mark. How good was that? Fourth best all-time—behind a couple of schlubs named Ruth, Williams and Gehrig. Now he's been dethroned even on the active list—by his own teammate no less. Trout is at .565, Albert is at .561. Giancarlo is third with .554. 

  • OPS: And one more time with feeling. Back in the day, Albert had a 1.049 mark, which was fourth best all-time. At .947, he's still fourth-best ... but on the active list—behind Trout (.975), Joey V (.968) and Miggy (.9477). For someone so close to the 1.000 mark career, it's odd that Trout has only had one 1.000+ season: last year's 1.071. But it's because he's Mr. Consistent. His other marks: .963, .988, .939, .991 and .991. He's 26.

  • GAMES: Only eight players have ever played in 3,000+ games: Rose, Yaz, Aaron, Rickey, Cobb, Musial, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken. Could Beltre be the ninth? He's 186 away, but that's a steep 186. Last season, for the first time since his rookie year, he played in fewer than 100 games (94). Second on the active list is Ichiro at 2,626, which isn't startling until you realize he didn't play in the Majors until he was 27. He had a whole other career before then. Combine his Japan and U.S. games, and he's at 3,587. The all-time MLB record holder? Rose at 3,562. 

  • HITS: In each of the last three seasons, a former Mariner has joined the 3,000-hit club, and together they‘re a single short of the cycle. A-Rod did it in June 2015 with a homer; Ichiro, the current active leader (3,080), followed in August 2016 with a triple; last July Adrian Beltre joined with a double. This year, King Albert starts the season at 2,968. So ... a single in May or June? Or is he not part of the cycle since he’s not a former Mariner? Quick trivia: When was the last time four guys joined the 3,000-hit club in four consecutive seasons? Answer: It's never happened.

  • DOUBLES: Albert and Adrian are first and second on the active list (619 and 613), and they‘re 12th and 13th on the all-time list. They’re sputtering, though. Last season, Albert managed 17, Adrian 22. After them it's Miggy at 545, then Robinson Cano at 512. Only four guys have ever smoked 700+ doubles lifetime: Speaker, Rose, Musial, Cobb.

  • TRIPLES: Last year, his age-34 season, Jose Reyes hit more triples (7) than in the previous three seasons combined (6) to raise his career total to 128. Second on the active list? Ichiro at 96. Reyes is a throwback. The last time the active leader had more career triples? Brett Butler, who retired with 131 in 1997. Before him, Willie Wilson, who retired with 147 in 1994. Before that? Robert Clemente, who ended his career with 166 in 1972. It's a lost art. Keep practicing it, Jose. 

  • HOMERUNS: Career OBP and OPS may drop, but you can't undo a man's homeruns. King Albert crushed his 600th last June—a grand slam—and now stands at 614: seventh all-time. Second place on the active list is a tie between Miggy and Beltre: 462 each. Behind them? Edwin Encarnacion at 348. Enjoy Albert's big career numbers while you can. 

  • RBIs: For all his problems last season (negative WAR, sub .300 OBP), King Albert still drove ‘em in, adding another 101 to bring his career RBI total to 1,918. That’s 10th all-time. And if he can get to 2,000, he'd be only the fifth man to cross that rubicon. Cap Anson was the first, in 1896, then Babe Ruth in 1932. Forty years later, Hank Aaron joined them; 43 years after that, A-Rod did it. So not something you see every day. Closest active players to Albert? Beltre (1642), Miggy (1613), and, of all players, Robinson Cano (1183).

  • RUNS: Pujols on top again, with 1,723. At the same time, it's a different list than RBIs: Ichiro is third, Jose Reyes fifth, Ian Kinsler sixth. So who's on the top 10 active list for both RBIs and Runs Scored? Five guys: Pujols, Beltre, Miggy, Cano and Chase Utley.

  • BASES ON BALLS: For all the “Moneyball” talk, only two active players have north of 1,000 career walks—Albert (1,251) and Miggy (1,065)—and both are pretty far back in the all-time charts: 53rd/94th. Third among actives is Joey Votto (996), followed by Joe Mauer (888). When was the last time the active BBs leader had fewer than Pujols' 1,251? In 1969: Willie Mays with 1,186. When was the last time the active leader in this category had less than 1,000? Donnie Bush's 932 in 1918. 

  • STRIKEOUTS: Ryan Howard would‘ve been last year’s active leader but he couldn't catch on with anyone, so stayed stuck at 1,843, 13th all-time. Ditto this year's active leader, Mark Reynolds, stuck at 1,806 (18th all-time). I might see Reynolds catching on—he had a better season last year than Howard‘s in 2016—but in the meantime our active leader is Curtis Granderson, now with the Toronto Blue Jays, with 1,712 career Ks (31st all-time). He’s followed by Beltre (1,636), Miggy (1,626), Justin Upton (1,544) and Chris Davis coming up on the outside (1,504).

  • GROUNDED INTO DOUBLE PLAYS: Last season, Albert led the league (26) and became the all-time leader (362), crushing Ripken's career mark of 350. Cal Who? Albert's got another four more years to pad his record, too. Behind him? Usual suspects: Miggy (294), Beltre (266), Cano (252). 

  • STOLEN BASES: A year ago, Ichiro was on top with 508, followed by Jose Reyes with 488. During the season, Reyes stole 24 bases, Ichiro ... one. So now it's Reyes by three. They‘re the only two actives above 500. Or 400. Anyone want to guess third place? Rajai Davis with 394. Then Jacoby Ellsbury with 343. Two guys moving up fast? Dee Gordon, 278, and Billy Hamilton, 243. 

  • DEFENSIVE WAR: Here’s what I don't buy about WAR. I't's not Beltre's career 28.4 defensive WAR, which is 12th all-time. Sure, why not? It's the viritual tie between No. 2 on the active list, Yadier Molina, at 23.9 after 14 years of catching, and Andrelton Simmons, at 22.1 after six years at shortstop. WAR has always dissed the catcher position, and this is the lastest example. No disrespect to Andrelton, but no way is his six years of fielding 5-6 ground balls per game worth 14 years of Yadier being involved in every single pitch. Do over. 

  • WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: In 2016, Albert finally climbed over triple-digit WAR with a 101.2 tally. Last season, he climbed right back down again. The Master of WAR in the 2000s actually had a negative WAR last season, -1.8, so he starts this season at 99.4. That's still 21st-best of all-time, but it's heading in the wrong direction. His nearest active rival, Beltre, missed a good chunk of season but pulled in another 3.7 to raise his total to 93.9—tied with Cap Anson for 27th-best. BTW: Seventh on the active list? Mike Trout with 55.2. Meaning, according to WAR, seven years of Mike Trout has been worth more than the entire careers of every active position player save six guys. Hmm...

  • WINS: Bartolo Colon has won an amazing 69 games since turning 40 in 2013. In the same period, C.C. Sabathia—seven years younger, and pitching for the always-winning Yankees—has managed only 46. That's why Bartolo's on top: 240 to 236. They‘re the only actives above 200. Third place is Justin Verlander, 35, who wins all the time, and who still has only 188. Can anyone get to 300 again? The way to do it, it seems, is to pull a late-career Big Sexy. Those are rare. 

  • ERA: Madison Bumgarner, third on the active list (3.01), ranks 176th all-time. Chris Sale, second on the active list (2.98), ranks 167th all-time. And No. 1 Clayton Kershaw? His 2.36 ERA ranks 24th all-time. The only pitcher from the modern era ahead of Kershaw is Mariano Rivera, who is 13th with a 2.20 ERA. The only starter from the modern era ahead of Kershaw? None. Everyone else is a deadball-era pitcher. He’s up there with the ghosts. 

  • WIN-LOSS %: Meanwhile, his 69% win-loss percentage (144-64) is third all-time—behind only Albert Goodwill Spalding, who pitched between 1871 and 1877 and won 79% of his games (going 54-5 in 1875 helped); and Spud Chandler, winner of 72% of his games for the ‘30s/’40s Yanks. Again: Kershaw's up there with the ghosts. No. 2 on the active list is a statistical dead-heat between Max Scherzer (.6528), David Price (.6513) and Stephen Strasberg (.6512).

  • STRIKEOUTS: Could C.C. become the 17th man in baseball history to reach 3,000 strikeouts? He's at 2,846. Last season he struck out 120, the year before 152. The 3,000-strikeout boys go in bunches. For 100 years it was just Walter Johnson until Bob Gibson joined him in 1974. Then between 1978 and 1986, 10 guys barged in: Gaylord, Nolan, Tom, Steve, Fergie, Don, Phil, Bert. Then nothing until 1998-2008 when we got six more: Roger, Randy, Greg, Curt, Pedro, John. Nothing since Schmoltzie. But here are the actives who have between 2100 and 2500 Ks: Clayton, Max, Cole, Zack, Felix, Justin. Expect more barging.  

  • BASES ON BALLS: C.C.'s the only guy with more than 1,000 career walks, and just barely: 1,009. He joined that group on August 31 against Boston: a first-inning walk to Andrew Benintendi. Did they stop the game? Flash it on the screen? Give him a standing o? Probably not. And in the scheme of things, it's not much: CC ranks 112th all-time here. Second active is Bartolo with 923, followed by Justin Verlander at 771.

  • INNINGS PITCHED: I wish these guys would make up their minds. At the start of ‘16, the active leader was C.C. by 8 IP; at the start of ’17 it was Bartolo by 4. Now it's C.C. again ... by 1 2/3 IP. After them, it goes Justin, Felix, Zack. All-time, C.C.'s 3,317 IP is 89th, just behind Vida Blue. 

  • COMPLETE GAMES: Every year of the 20th century some pitcher threw double-digit CGs. Every year. Even strike-shortened ‘94 when Greg Maddux threw 10. Even ’99 when Randy threw 12. And then it was as if the lights went out. The calendar flipped and the CGs disappeared. In the 21st, only two pitchers have thrown double-digit CGs: C.C. in 2008 (10) and James Shields in 2011 (11). Last season, only 59 CGs were thrown in all of baseball, and the team leader was Cleveland with 7. It's a disappearing stat. Among our top three, it's been stasis since 2016, when it went CC (38), Bartolo (36) and Felix (25). Last year, we finally got movement—and from Bartolo, of all people. The blessed event occurred Aug. 4th vs. Texas. 

  • SHUTOUTS: No movement in the top 3: It's Kershaw with 15, Bartolo 13, C.C. 12. But last season Ervin Santana tied Corey Kluber for the league lead with 3, vaulting him into a tie for fourth on the active chart with Felix: 11. No one's thrown more than 3 in a season since 2012, when King Felix threw 5. Last guy to throw double-digit shutouts in a season? John Tudor, ‘85, with 10. Before him, Jim Palmer, ’75, also 10. If you discount the deadball era and raised-mound era (‘62-’68), 10 is the record, also accomplished by Carl Hubbell (‘33), Mort Cooper (’42), Bob Feller (‘46), Bob Lemon (’48). 

  • WILD PITCHES: Of all the categories to find King Felix leading. And not by a little, either. He's got 140, tied with Sudden Sam McDowell for 45th all-time. Second among actives is Tim Lincecum with 107. They‘re the only dudes above 100. 

  • SAVES: If Francisco Rodriguez catches on with someone, this stat is his. Seems unlikely, though, after his horrible, truncated 2017 season (2-5, six blown saves, 7.32 ERA), and a late spring 2018 release by the Phillies. That’s why the unlikelier F-Rod, Fernando Rodney, the man with the invisible arrows and skewed cap, is on top here. He's got 300 career saves and a two-year deal with the Twins that's making M's fans do a double take. Roaring up behind? Craig Kimbrel with 291. I'm guessing Kimbrel overtakes Rodney in June. And where he stops nobody knows. 

  • WAR FOR PITCHERS: At some point this season, Kershaw will take over. C.C. is at 59.8, Kershaw is at 58.8. There are a few dudes nipping at both their heels: Verlander at 57.6, Zack at 57.4, Felix at 52. 2. For the record, only nine pitchers have career WARs over 100: Cy, Kid, Walter, Grover, Lefty, Tom, Roger, Greg and Randy. 

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Posted at 06:21 AM on Mar 29, 2018 in category Baseball
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Tuesday March 20, 2018

The Short, Consequential Career of Pee Wee Wanninger

My father is fond of the following baseball trivia question:

Who did Lou Gehrig replace to begin his 2,130 consecutive-games-played streak?

It’s a famous baseball story—if partially apocryphal. On June 2, 1925, Wally Pipp, the Yankees longtime first baseman, complained of a headache and asked manager Miller Huggins if he could sit out a game. Huggins sent in Gehrig ... who stayed at the position for 14 years.

The apocryphal bit is the headache. If there was a headache, it was Huggins’, since the Yankees started the season poorly: 15-26, seventh in the A.L. And they’d just lost five in a row—three to the Athletics, one to Boston, and one to the Washington Senators, who were, remember, 1924 World Champions, and who at this point had as many titles as the Yanks: one. So Huggins was doing what he could to change things around. Pipp, a career .300 hitter, was down to .244. His replacement, Gehrig, wound up going 3-5, with a double, a run, and an RBI, in a 8-5 Yankee victory. The rest is history. Certainly for Pipp: In the off-season the Yanks sold him to the Cincinnati Reds for $7500. Three years later, he was out of baseball.

Pee Wee WanningerAnyway, that’s the famous story but it’s not the answer to the trivia question—which is why my father likes it. Because the day before this game, on June 1, 1925, Gehrig came in as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 8th inning for shortstop Pee-Wee Wanninger.

And that’s the answer: Pee-Wee Wanninger.

Dad and I were talking about this again on the phone last week, and afterwards, curious, I did a dive into Baseball Reference stats and came away with some interesting tidbits my father didn’t know.

The first game of the streak was a 5-3 loss to the Senators. The last game of the streak was a 3-2 loss to the Senators. Oh, and guess who Gehrig faced in that first game? Walter Johnson, the Big Train, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Talk about your deep ends. He flew out to left.

But here’s the part that amazed me most.

Before Gehrig, the record-holder for consecutive games played was a shortstop named Everett Scott, who was part of that late '10s/early ‘20s migration of Red Sox players to the Yankees. His streak, 1,307 games—still the third-longest ever—began in 1916 in Boston and ended on May 5, 1925 with the Yanks. It was part of another Miller Huggins shake-up. Scott was hitting just .208, so, streak or no streak, on May 6, Huggins replaced him.

With Pee-Wee Wanninger.

Isn’t that amazing? Wanninger replaced the guy with the longest consecutive-games streak, and then, less than a month later, was replaced by the guy starting the new consecutive-games streak. Life doesn’t give us this kind of symmetry often. We need to appreciate it when we find it. 

For all the baseball history he made, Wanninger didn’t last long. He was hitting .316 on June 6, but by the end of the month he was down to .291 and kept falling. End of July: .264. August: .243. He played sparsely in September, and that off-season was dealt to the St. Paul Saints of the American Association. A year later, the Saints traded him to Boston. He ended his Major League career that same season in Cincinnati. Lifetime, he hit .234/.266./295. He has negative career WAR. But he could close a bar with the stories he could tell. 

Lou Gehrig's streak starts: June 1, 1925

Boxscore, June 1, 1925 

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Posted at 08:56 AM on Mar 20, 2018 in category Baseball
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Tuesday March 13, 2018

The Royal Way

Lorenzo Cain scoring the go-ahead run in the final game of the 2015 ALCS

Passion, check. Innocence, check. Urgency, check. Fun, double check. 

“I tell players all the time. I tell them, ‘Look, your number one responsibility is to grow the game. You have an opportunity to play the game because somebody did it so well and made it look like so much fun that you thought, ’Yes! I want to be a ballplayer.'

”That's your responsibility now, to play this game so that someone watching thinks, ‘You played this game with passion, you did it through injury, you did it with innocence, you did it with urgency.’ You made it look so fun that some boy or little girl says, ‘Boy, I’d like to do this someday.' That's your calling. The rest will work itself out.“

— KC Royals GM Dayton Moore, ”As Royals Reset, Moore of Same from GM," by Joe Posnanski

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Posted at 06:31 AM on Mar 13, 2018 in category Baseball
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Thursday March 08, 2018

It's 2018: Do You Know Where Your .350 Hitters Are?

Tony Gwynn

Since WWII, no one's had more .350+ seasons than this guy. Or .360+ seasons. Or .370+. Or... 

Yesterday, perhaps inspired by the Seattle Mariners signing 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki to a one-year deal, Bill James tweeted the following:

That seemed about right. I'd recently researched guys who hit over .350, and in the wake of James' tweet I did it again. And yes, no one has hit .350 or better since Josh Hamilton's .359 in 2010. But wait, wasn't Hamilton an active player? Nope. Drug relapse in 2015, didn't play in 2016, and last year signed a minor-league deal with Texas but knee issues resurfaced and he was released in April. He hasn't played an official game since Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS—that crazy, Jose Bautista bat-flip game. Hamilton went 1-3 with a double and an RBI.

Anyway, looking at that 7-year gap without a .350 hitter, I began to wonder how common it was. I assumed it was kind of common. It's tough to hit .350, after all. 

But no, that's the record. It's the longest baseball has gone without a .350 hitter. Ever.  

The previous record was five years, 1962-1966, after they raised the mound in the wake of Maris/Mantle. Clemente hit .357 in 1967, but that was the only .350+ season during the raised-mound years.

Here's the longest dearths without seeing .350:

  • 7 (and counting): 2011-2017
  • 5: 1962-1966
  • 4: 1952-1955
  • 4: 1989-1992

No three years in a row, btw. A few scattered twos.

And here are the number of seasons per decade without a .350 hitter:

  • 1900s: 0
  • 1910s: 0
  • 1920s: 0
  • 1930s: 1

Yes. We didn't have our first .350-less year in the 20th century until 1938. We had three in the 19th century. Onward.

  • 1940s: 1
  • 1950s: 5
  • 1960s: 8
  • 1970s: 4
  • 1980s: 3
  • 1990s: 3
  • 2000s: 2
  • 2010s: 7

For the record, and not counting round-ups (.3497, for example, which knocks off one of Ichiro‘s), we’ve had 79 instances of players hitting .350 or better since Ted Williams' .400 in 1941. Tony Gwynn leads the pack—he did it six times—followed by Stan Musial and Wade Boggs with five each. 

.360+ seasons since ‘41? Thirty-five: from Musial in ’46 to Joe Mauer in 2009. Boggs and Gwynn are tied for the most with four. 

.370+ seasons? Twelve: from Musial in ‘48 to Ichiro in 2004. Gwynn has three. No one else has two. 

.380+? Just four: Ted Williams’ .388 in ‘57, Rod Carew’s .388 in ‘77, George Brett’s .389 in ‘80 and Gwynn’s .393 in the strike-shortened ‘94 season.

And what’s the closest we‘ve come to .350 since Josh Hamilton? DJ LeMahieu’s .3478 in 2016. So we‘re not far off. We’re just not there. Unprecedentedly.

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Posted at 07:13 AM on Mar 08, 2018 in category Baseball
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Wednesday February 14, 2018

Who's Who (and White) in Baseball?

I suppose this is less trivia question than history lesson. But it's still a trivia question. 

About a year ago I bought a copy of the book, “100 Years of Who's Who in Baseball,” a compendium of the annual baseball magazine's covers from 1916 to 2015—with the cover of the very first issue, a one-off in 1912, tossed in. The only cover missing is the final one in 2016, featuring Bryce Harper. The magazine stopped publishing after that.

Who's Who in Baseball 1916For the kids: “Who's Who...” had a distinctive red cover and included the relevant stats of every active Major Leaguer. I think I bought it every year between 1971 and 1975 when there wasn't much else to go on, and when its appearance, like the appearance of baseball cards, signaled spring was finally here. 

Those “relevant stats” are interesting, by the way. The very first issue in 1912 included only three: games, batting average, and (of all things) fielding average. By 1928, according to Marty Appel in his foreword to the book, readers could peruse six stats: games, at-bats, runs, hits, stolen bases and batting average. Appel writes: “The readers would know that Babe [Ruth] had seven stolen bases in 1927, but not 60 home runs. Crazy.” Home runs were finally added in 1940. 

Flipping through the book, I began to notice something odd, and it led to this trivia question.

Who was the first African-American/person of color on the cover of “Who's Who in Baseball”? And in what year? 

The answer has several gradations, which I‘ll get to by and by. 

Since the cover of “Who’s Who...” featured a dynamic player from the previous season, the first year an African-American could have been on the cover was 1948—the year after Jackie Robinson's debut. He wouldn't have been a bad choice, either: Rookie of the Year, fifth in MVP voting, changed the game forever. But not to be. WWIB opted for another good choice, “The Home Run Twins of 1947,” Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize, both of whom hit 51. 

Who's Who in Baseball 1952Year to year, cover subjects often switched leagues, since you didn't want one league dominating too much. For the ‘49 cover, for example, WWIB went with 1948 AL MVP winner Lou Boudreau. And if they’d switched back to the NL for the following year, Jackie Robinson, again, wouldn't have been a bad choice. He won the 1949 NL MVP, hitting .342 and slugging .528, while leading the league in stolen bases (37). By modern metrics, too, he was the best player in baseball, with a 9.6 WAR. But he didn't make the cover. (Jackie never made the cover.) Instead, WWIB stayed in the AL. It didn't highlight the AL MVP winner, either, Ted Williams (.343/.490/.650), who'd graced the cover back in ‘43, but his teammate, pitcher Mel Parnel, who went 25-7 with a 2.77 ERA. I guess they didn’t want to double up on Ted. Plus you gotta get pitchers in the mix, too. 

Next year, another pitcher: NL MVP Jim Konstanty of the Phillies. The year after, they skipped over the NL MVP (Roy Campanella) for Stan Musial, who'd finished second in MVP voting, and who'd already been on the cover in ‘44. He’d certainly had a great season (.355/.449/.614), but you can begin to see a pattern emerging.

For the ‘53 cover, apparently someone on the WWIB staff thought, “Hey, why not both MVPs?” So it was done: A’s pitcher Bobby Shantz (24-7, 2.48 ERA) and Cubs slugger Hank Sauer (37 HRs, 121 RBIs). That idea (both MVPs) lasted but a year. For the ‘53 season, Al Rosen won the AL MVP, and Roy Campanella (again) the NL, and WWIB opted for ... just Rosen.

Who's Who in Baseball 1955But it’s the next year that blows the lid off things. They'd just featured Rosen so the likely cover would be a National Leaguer. Maybe even the NL MVP, Willie Mays, who'd just had a season for the ages. He led the league in hitting, slugging, OPS and triples. He went .345/.411/.667. His WAR was 10.6. Plus there was that World Series catch, now known simply as “The Catch.” But they didn't choose Willie. Of course not. They didn't go AL, either. They stayed in the NL. In fact, they stayed on the same team. The ‘55 cover was Willie’s teammate, Al Dark, who hit a respectable .293/.325/.446, and finished fifth in the MVP voting. But he didn't exactly have a season for the ages. 

By now the pattern has fully emerged. 

I‘ll cut to the chase. Here is a list of NL MVPs from 1949 to 1963, along with the following year’s “Who's Who” cover choice. I‘ve highlighted the African-American players:

1949 Jackie Robinson Mel Parnell Leader in W, ERA, IP
1950 Phil Konstanty Phil Konstanty NL MVP
1951 Roy Campanella Stan Musial (2) 2nd in NL MVP
1952 Hank Sauer Hank Sauer/Bobby Shantz NL/AL MVP
1953 Roy Campanella Al Rosen AL MVP
1954 Willie Mays Al Dark 5th in NL MVP
1955 Roy Campanella Duke Snider 2nd in NL MVP
1956 Don Newcombe Mickey Mantle AL MVP
1957 Hank Aaron Warren Spahn MLB Cy Young
1958 Ernie Banks Bob Turley MLB Cy Young
1959 Ernie Banks Don Drysdale ??
1960 Dick Groat Roger Maris AL MVP
1961 Frank Robinson Whitey Ford MLB Cy Young
1962 Maury Wills Don Drysdale (2) MLB Cy Young
1963 Sandy Koufax Sandy Koufax NL MVP/Cy Young

In 15 years, 11 black players were voted NL MVP, and none of them wound up on the cover. In that same time, four white players were voted NL MVP and three of them wound up on the cover. Only Dick Groat, among white players, got the scroogie. Welcome to the party, pal. 

The second half of that above list is particularly odd. Six pitchers in seven years? And four Dodgers and four Yankees in nine years? The Yanks, of course, were one of the last teams to integrate. The Dodgers had been the first, but somehow WWIB kept missing its black stars (Robinson, Campanella, Newcombe, Wills) but not the white (Snider, Drysdale, Koufax). 

But at least we’re getting around to the answer to the trivia question. Or an answer. For the ‘64 season, Brooks Robinson won the AL MVP and Ken Boyer won the NL. And “Who’s Who” went with ... Ken Boyer. 

No, Boyer wasn't black. But this was the first year that WWIB, along with its “in action” shot, included several headshots along the side of the cover. And in the ‘65 issue, those headshots included Larry Jackson (2nd in MLB Cy Young voting), Joe Torre (5th in NL MVP voting), Juan Marichal (15th in NL MVP voting) and Tony Oliva (AL batting champion/Rookie of the Year).

Who's Who in BaseballSo that’s your answer. Tony Oliva and Juan Marichal in 1965 were the first people of color on the cover of “Who's Who in Baseball.”

At the same time, it's a bit of a cheat, isn't it? Since they‘re not the main cover subject? So that’s the follow-up: When did WWIB first feature an African-American/person of color as its main cover subject?

1966? Willie Mays had another season for the ages in ‘65, hitting .317 with 52 homers while leading the league OBP, SLG, OPS, TB, and winning his ninth Gold Glove and his second NL MVP. And he did make the cover—finally. But it’s a headshot. The bigger, dominant headshot belongs to Sandy Koufax.

1967? Frank Robinson won the ‘66 AL triple crown, and he’s one of four equal-sized headshots on the cover, sharing space with Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax and Jim Kaat. But he's not the feature.

The ‘67 season was all about Yaz, and WWIB made their cover all about him, too. There’s no one else on it.  

And if ‘67 makes you think of Yaz, ’68 surely makes you think of Bob Gibson. And, along with Yaz and Pete Rose, he is one of three headshots on the cover. But the big “in action” shot belongs to 30-game winner Denny McLain.

Who's Who in Baseball 1975Tom Seaver on the ‘70 cover makes sense, as does Johnny Bench on the ’71 cover. But ‘72? Gotta be Vida Blue, right? Dude won the 1971 AL Cy Young and MVP. He made the cover of Time magazine. He was the talk of baseball. But he’s just the headshot. The dominating photo belongs to NL MVP Joe Torre.

I‘ll cut to the chase for the second time. After ’73 (Steve Carlton) and ‘74 (Nolan Ryan), “Who’s Who in Baseball,” in 1975, finally made a person of color their main cover image. The irony is that this is one of the few seasons during these decades when no person of color won the MVP (Jeff Burroughs, Steve Garvey) or Cy Young award (Catfish Hunter and Mike Marshall). But this player performed a big feat in ‘74. He broke a record. 

Not Hank Aaron. Yes, Aaron broke the most hallowed record in baseball in ’74, Babe Ruth's 714 homeruns, but he didn't make the cover. (He never made the cover—not even as a headshot.) The ‘75 cover belonged to Lou Brock, who stole 118 bases in ’74. And that's the answer to the second part of our question. The first African-American to be the featured cover subject on “Who's Who in Baseball” is Lou Brock in 1975—nearly three decades after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

As I said, this was both trivia question and history lesson. But the history is American rather than baseball; and the answer isn't exactly trivial.

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Posted at 07:23 AM on Feb 14, 2018 in category Baseball
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