erik lundegaard

Baseball posts

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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Friday January 26, 2018

January Pick-Me-Up

Here's a late-January pick-me-up: a first-inning at-bat in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series between Miguel Cabrera (just a kid, 20) and Roger Clemens (41 asshole years old):

This should be a life lesson. It should be a TED Talk. They should show it in high school and have discussions about it with kids afterwards.  

There are people who will throw at your head to get ahead. And you need to know what to do when that happens. You need to stay cool. Because you need to make them pay. 

Miguel Cabrera did just that with Clemens. You could even say this at-bat turned the tide of the World Series and the Yankees dynasty. Marlins were down two games to one, Yanks had Roger Clemens on the mound, he's throwing at the heads of kids. I like the look Miggy gives him after that first pitch. Would be interesting to see Roger's look back. I like Miggy's rush to punish, the big swings, then pulling back when he has two strikes; and then just fighting everything off. And he finds his equilibrium again and makes Clemens pay. Tim McCarver: “There is nothing that makes a hitter feel better than being knocked off the plate and then hitting a homerun. Nothing.”

And there's nothing that makes a Yankee hater feel better.

After this at-bat, the Yankees would have the lead for just one inning more: the 1st inning in Game 5. Otherwise, it was all Marlins.

Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 13. 

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Posted at 02:18 PM on Jan 26, 2018 in category Baseball
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Friday January 12, 2018

There Goes the Worst MVP Vote That Ever Lived

Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio

“So Joe, you led the league in what exactly?”

Amid my usual Baseball Reference wanderings, I came across the voting for 1947 AL MVP, and it made me wonder if it was the worst MVP vote ever. It was certainly the closest: one point separated first and second place. 

The runner-up was Ted Williams, who wound up with 201 points, including three first-place votes. That year, he led the league in:

  • Runs
  • HRs
  • RBIs
  • Walks
  • Batting average
  • On-base percentage
  • Slugging percentage
  • OPS
  • Total bases

Dude slugged .634 and his OBP was .499. He won the Triple Crown for the second time. But he didn't win the MVP.  

The winner was Joe DiMaggio, who wound up with 202 points and eight first-place votes. He certainly had a good season: .315/.399/.522. But this is what he led the league in:

  • Nothing

Wait, let me double-check:

  • Yeah, absolutely nothing

Sure, DiMaggio was better defensively—just not that better. Even by advanced metrics that factor in defense, it's not close: Williams had a 9.9 WAR, DiMaggio 4.8. But you don't need advanced metrics. Just look at all of the above. 

A few years back, Brian Cronin debunked some myths about that year's voting in the LA Times. He gets at why it wasn't a Boston writer (or writers), but not why it happened at all. Besides the usual: DiMag beloved, Williams not.

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Posted at 06:40 AM on Jan 12, 2018 in category Baseball
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Thursday January 11, 2018

300-Game Winners: By Decade

This post was spurred by Joe Posnanski's piece on Mike Mussina's Hall of Fame case. Here:

Before [Gaylord] Perry (and Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton and Nolan Ryan), winning 300 games was almost unheard of. Two post-World War II players had done it. One was the freakishly durable Warren Spahn. ... The other 300-game winner was Early Wynn, who won exactly 300 by just chugging along and chugging along...

Some part of me always thought, yeah, 300 wins, tough row but there's been quite a few. Nope, just 24, including five who did it in the 19th century. And between Sept. 1924 (Grover Cleveland Alexander) and August 1961 (Spahn)—or before Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic but after man orbitted the earth—there was just one guy who did it: Lefty Grove. And he hit 300 on the button.

The list:

1880s 1 Pud Galvin (365) 
1890s 4 Tim Keefe (342), Mickey Welch (307), Charles Radbourn (309), John Clarkson (328)
1900s 2 Kid Nichols (361), Cy Young (511)
1910s 2 Christy Mathewson (373), Eddie Plank (326)
1920s 2 Walter Johnson (417), Grover Cleveland Alexander (373)
1930s 0  
1940s 1 Lefty Grove (300)
1950s 0  
1960s 2 Warren Spahn (363), Early Wynn (300)
1970s 0  
1980s 5 Gaylord Perry (314), Steve Carlton (329), Tom Seaver (311), Phil Niekro (318), Don Sutton (324)
1990s 1 Nolan Ryan (324)
2000s 4 Roger Clemens (354), Greg Maddux (355), Tom Glavine (305), Randy Johnson (303)
2010s 0  

Why the slowdown after the 1920s? I imagine WWII has something to do with it. Red Ruffing lost two years to the war (non-combat, four missing toes) and wound up with 273 career victories. Bob Feller lost four prime years to the war, years when he routinely won 20 games, and he finished with 266. Without the war, he'd probably have been in the rarefied 350+ territory. 

But what about our '60s guys? Yeah, there was still the draft. Whitey Ford lost two years to the military but it wouldn't have helped his 236 wins get over the magic mark. A sore shoulder forced Don Drysdale to retire young, at age 33, a year after he set the consecutive inning scoreless streak in 1968. He had 209 wins. Obviously Koufax, same, plus a long way away at 165. Jim Bunning stopped at 224, Juan Marichal at 243, Bob Gibson 251, Jim Palmer 268, Ferguson Jenkins 284. Even Fergie, who kept winning 20. That's how tough it is.

As for the guys that did it post-70s? Several things helped: the 162-game schedule (a few more games every year), Tommy John surgery, and just general fitness and personal training. Plus the spitter (Gaylord), the knuckler (Niekro), freakish durability (Nolan Ryan) and PEDs (??).

The last pitcher to make 300 was Randy Johnson, wearing a Giants uniform in 2009. Since then, the closest has been his one-time teammate, Jamie Moyer, who retired (at nearly 50!) with 269. The current active leaders are Bartolo Colon (240 at age 44) and C.C. Sabathia (237 at age 36). If C.C. has a second wind like Bartolo (87 wins since his age 36 season), he would do it; but it doesn't usually work that way. One man's second wind is another man's retirement. No other active pitcher has more than 200 wins.

Now we're not just in the era of the closer but the era of the bullpen. You want that sucker stacked. You want guys that can come in in the 8th or 7th or 6th. Or 5th? Or 2nd? All of whom might wind up with the W. So 300? We might not see its like again. 

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Posted at 07:52 AM on Jan 11, 2018 in category Baseball
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Wednesday January 03, 2018

Johnny Damon/How I Love Him

Was I the only one who channeled the 1961 Shelly Fabares song when Johnny Damon's name came up? Surely not the only one. 

My man Joe Posnanski is doing a rundown of players on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot this year, and he's up to Johnny Angel/Damon, whom he covered in Kansas City when both he and Johnny were kids. Of course, Damon will always have a warm place in my heart for putting the nail in the coffin to the greatest chokesters in the history of baseball, the 2004 New York Yankees, who, up 3-0 in a best-of-7 series, lost the next four in a row to the Boston Red Sox. Good times. David Ortiz towered during this period, but Damon was the one with the grand slam and two-run homer in Game 7. He put it forever out of reach for the Yankees and their fans. For all of us in Yankees-Suck-Nation, he made watching Game 7 fun rather than tense.  

Anyway, I love this graf of Posnanski's:

Damon was an unusual player; nothing he did seemed especially smooth or graceful. His throwing motion was this odd multistep process that seemed to be building up to something impressive ... and instead the ball would kind of fall out of his hand, helpless, limp, like a firecracker that didn't go off. You could almost hear a sad trombone.

Even though Poz isn't make a HOF case for Damon, he almost makes a HOF case for Damon.

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Posted at 07:17 AM on Jan 03, 2018 in category Baseball
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