erik lundegaard


Baseball posts

Sunday June 30, 2024

Willie Mays (1931-2024)

I heard about the death of Willie Mays when I was beginning my third week in Minneapolis helping look after and advocate for my father, who’d had a stroke at the end of May. The next morning, visiting Dad in his small room at R. Hospital in Golden Valley, I read him the long obit in The New York Times, and we reminisced about all Dad used to say about The Say-Hey Kid as a tour guide at Target Field in the 2010s. 

In one of the rooms at Target Field, I think the “Legends” room, there was a giant photo of Willie playing for the Minneapolis Millers in the spring of 1951, and most of Dad’s stories related to that time period: how Mays was hitting .477 over 35 games when he got the call to join the NY Giants; how Mays was so beloved in Minneapolis that Giants owner Horace Stoneham had to take out an advertisement apologizing to Millers’ fans for “stealing” their star; how, when Mays told Giants’ manager Leo Durocher that he didn’t think he could hit big league pitching, and then owned that he was hitting .477 for Minneapolis, Durocher supposedly replied “Do you think you could hit .2-fucking-77 for me?”; and how, after he began his career hitless in his first three games, and he again felt he couldn’t hit Major League pitching, Durocher assured him that he was his center fielder for life. “You’re the best player I ever saw,” Durocher told him, or some reasonable facsimile of that, and at R. Hospital Dad repeated it with tears in his eyes.

Dad must’ve choked up five times during our Willie Mays conversation. That’s how much he meant to people.

To Charles Schulz, Mays was the symbol of perfection:


To Joe Henry, he was a sign of a better time for America: 

But that was him
I'm almost sure
The greatest centerfielder of all time
Stooped by the burden of endless dreams
His and yours and mine

He was the subject of songs, and biographies, and Saturday morning cartoons, and he was so omnipresent when I was young, so much the sky, that in 2012, when I was telling a story about him to friends, and one of those friends, Myriam, asked, “Who’s Willie Mays?” I didn’t even know how to respond. I just stared at her. Who’s Willie Mays? I should’ve said: One of two geniuses in the world, according to Tallulah Bankhead. The other was William Shakespeare.

Do we go into the numbers? I know most of them off the top of my head. 

660 is, of course, the homerun total, which would’ve been higher had he not played at Candlestick Park, but it was still the third highest-total in MLB history when he retired. He was only the second player to hit 600, nearly 40 years after Ruth, Sept. 22, 1969. There are now nine on the list. Half are suspect.

.301 is the career batting average. Some of his contemporaries, like Mickey Mantle, wound up dipping below .300. Not Willie.

24? Number on his back, number of All-Star appearances. The latter will never be broken, the former is worn all the time in homage.

Interestingly, the true greatness of Willie Mays—in numbers—didn’t reveal itself until decades after he retired, when WAR (Wins About Replacement) was created. It’s supposed to take in all aspects of a player’s game. Mays won two MVPs, in 1954 and 1965, but by bWAR he was the best position player in the National League for 10 seasons, and the best in the entire Majors for eight seasons. In the integrated era of baseball, no one’s close.

Then there’s the catch off Vic Wertz in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, now just known as “The Catch,” and the stories surrounding it. It was the top of the 8th, tie score, 2-2, and Cleveland got the first two guys on: walk, single. So Durocher called for reliever Don Liddle to face Wertz, who hit a shot into deep, deep center field. Mays runs back, his number 24 visible to all, and makes a catch “that must’ve looked like an optical illusion to some people,” according to  Giants’ announcer Russ Hodges. So Durocher makes another pitching change, and as Liddle hands the ball to reliever Marv Grissom, he shrugs and says, “Well, I got my guy.”

I also like the exchange between left fielder Monte Irvin and Mays as they trotted in after the Giants held the line.

Irvin: Nice going, roomie. Didn’t think you’d get that.
Mays: You kidding? Had that one all the way.

Sidenote: Wertz went 4-5 that day, with a double, a triple and two singles. He should’ve gone 5-5 in a Cleveland romp. He should’ve been the star player of the game and the series. Instead, he’s the sidenote: the guy who hit the ball that Mays caught.

In Donald Honig’s oral history “Between the Lines,” Irvin recalls another Mays catch, in Pittsburgh, that some say is greater:

He was playing in close and Rocky [Nelson] got hold of one and drove it way out into that big center field they had in old Forbes Field. Willie whirled around and took off after it. At the last second he saw he couldn't get his glove across his body in time to make the catch, so he caught it in his bare hand.

That one made the Times obit, too, for the practical joke Durocher played on Mays afterward. Leo told everyone in the dugout to not say anything, to ignore him, and so instead of back claps Mays was greeted with silence. “Leo,” Mays wound up saying, “didn’t you see what I did?” “No,” Durocher replied. “You’ll have to go out and do it again.”

The stories could go on forever. One hopes they will.

Posted at 09:19 AM on Sunday June 30, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Tuesday May 07, 2024

Each Team's Last 200+ Hit Player, or The Curse of Pete Rose

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

Today's post is brought to you by Immaculate Grid, about which, yes, Tim and I used to do a SubStack, and may again in the future. In the meantime ...

The grid today included a column on players who got 200+ hits in a season crossed with three original-16 teams: Reds, Cards and A's. I went with Frank McCormick, Lou Brock and Al Simmons. McCormick was a guess. Well, all three were, but Brock got 3,000 hits and didn't walk much, and Al Simmons had those amazing early 1930s years, so those weren't fingers-crossed guesses as much as McCormick. I just didn't want to do Pete Rose ... which, yes, turned out to be the No. 1 answer for that square: Something like 85% chose him.

With reason. This is how many guys hit 200+ in a season for each of those franchises:

  • Cards: 21
  • A's 8
  • Reds: 6

SIX?? And get this: no one since Pete Rose in 1977. That's shocking for two reasons. It means Rose didn't get to 200+ hits the year he hit in 44 straight games AND no Cincinnati Red has gotten 200+ hits in a season since 1977! I.e., since “Star Wars” came out! Since Jimmy Carter's first year in office! Since The New York Times first began to let Donald Trump lie all over its pages! That far back. 

It made me wonder if that's the longest 200+ hit drought for any team. Yep, and it's not even close.


Year Team Player Hits
2023 Atlanta Braves Ronald Acuna Jr. 217
2023 Los Angeles Dodgers Freddie Freeman 211
2023 Miami Marlins Luis Arraez 203
2019 Kansas City Royals Whit Merrifield 206
2019 Boston Red Sox Rafael Devers 201
2017 Colorado Rockies Charlie Blackmon 213
2017 Houston Astros Jose Altuve 204
2016 Arizona Diamondbacks Jean Segura 203
2014 Cleveland Guardians Michael Brantley 200
2012 New York Yankees Derek Jeter 216
2012 Detroit Tigers Miguel Cabrera 205
2011 Texas Rangers Michael Young 213
2011 Chicago Cubs Starlin Castro 207
2010 Seattle Mariners Ichiro Suzuki 214
2009 Milwaukee Brewers Ryan Braun 203
2008 New York Mets Jose Reyes 204
2007 Philadelphia Phillies Jimmy Rollins 212
2006 Baltimore Orioles Miguel Tejada 214
2006 Anaheim Angels Vladimir Guerrero 200
2006 Pittsburgh Pirates Freddy Sanchez 200
2004 San Diego Padres Mark Loretta 208
2003 Toronto Blue Jays Vernon Wells 215
2003 St. Louis Cardinals Albert Pujols 212
2002 Washington Nationals Vladimir Guerrero 206
2002 Oakland A's Miguel Tejada 204
2001 San Francisco Giants Rich Aurilia 206
1998 Chicago White Sox Albert Belle 200
1998 Tampa Bay Rays n/a n/a
1996 Minnesota Twins Paul Molitor 225
1977 Cincinnati Reds Pete Rose 204

The Tampa Bay Rays are the only franchise that's never had a 200+ hit guy. They topped out with—believe it or not—Aubrey Huff, about to embarrass himself yet again a social platform near you, who got 198 in 2003. He and Carl Crawford (194 in 2005) are the only Rays/D-Rays to top 190. 

But the Rays have an excuse. They've only been around since 1998. The Reds have been swinging bats since basically the Civil War—the 19th century one. In case you're curious, here are the Cincy Six:

  1. Cy Seymour (1905)
  2. Jake Daubert (1922)
  3. Frank McCormick (1938, 1939)
  4. Vada Pinson (1959, 1961, 1963, 1965)
  5. Frank Robinson (1962)
  6. Pete Rose (1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1977)

So is Cincy being punished for all the 200+ seasons it got with Pete Rose? Or because of what Pete Rose became? Or is? Is it the Curse of Charlie Hustle? 

What stunned me about the Twins, meanwhile, is that their last guy to do it, Paul Molitor, did it in his age-40 season, just three seasons from retirement, and he managed *225*. Wow. Even Luis Arraez, when he won the batting title as a Twin in 2022, managed just 173. That's how hard it is to do this thing. 

It helps to be a free-swinger, of course. There's a reason Miguel Tejada and Vlad Guerrero are on the above chart twice. There's a reason, too, that Ted Williams, Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas never got 200+: too many walks. That's probably why, in the Moneyball age, the 200+ stat doesn't seem to have the cachet it used to.

But that's no excuse, Cincinnati. 

Posted at 05:26 PM on Tuesday May 07, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Friday April 12, 2024

Stumbling Toward Vegas

In his Friday column, Joe Posnanski takes questions from “brilliant readers” as he calls them, mostly about the start of the season. Are the Astros really this bad? Are the Royals really this good? I was going to say something snide about Pos staying away from any mention of the Seattle Mariners, his dark horse to win the AL West, even as they started the season 4-8 (and looked worse); but then he included a takedown of Oakland A's owner John Fisher that just made me smile:

Will the A's ever play in Las Vegas?

I'm putting the percentage chance at 50. And falling.

It is stupefying—utterly stupefying—just how badly A's owner John Fisher has bungled things every single step of the way. I mean, you would think he would get something right by mistake. The latest fiasco involves the A's decision to play the next two years or three years or four years or 100 years in Sacramento, in a 14,000-seat, minor league ballpark that they will share with the Giants' Class AAA River Cats.

Sure, it takes quite the mastermind to cut a deal to play Major League Baseball in a shared minor league stadium in Sacramento. But, beyond that, Fisher had to share his excitement about how everyone in Sacramento (a few thousand at a time) would soon be able “to watch some of the greatest players in baseball, whether they be Athletics players or Aaron Judge and others launch home runs out of this very intimate, most intimate park in all of Major League Baseball.”

There are so many incredibly dumb statements in those few words that, honestly, I'm kind of in awe.

Pos adds that MLB should have forced Fisher to sell the team long ago but sadly that shipped has sailed. Joe's gut tells him the A's won't wind up in Vegas, but adds, “John Fisher does seem to have fully developed his failing upward act, and I'd say there's probably a 50-50 shot that by simply being super-rich and owning one of 30 big-league clubs, and being part of a sport that seemingly wants to go all in on gambling, he will somehow stumble his way into Vegas.”

Stumbling Toward Vegas would make a good title for a book on Fisher's ineptitude. Maybe wrap in some Yeats while you're at it.

Posted at 01:00 PM on Friday April 12, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday March 28, 2024

Opening Day 2024

  • SLIDESHOW: Opening Day! Whooo! ... OK, so technically it was last week, when the Dodgers beat the Padres 5-2 in Seoul, South Korea. Great idea, poorly executed. I barely heard about it until it was over. But now that everyone is playing, let's figure out who our active leaders are. We don't have Albert and Miggy to kick around anymore. Also: No Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, Adam Wainwright, Eric Hosmer, Andrelton Simmons and Mike Zunino, to name some of the official retirees. Then there's the question marks. Is Evan Longoria done? Zack Greinke? Will Joey Votto rehab that ankle injury and make the Blue Jays roster? Either way, a lot of NEW! faces on the active leaderboard. Let's get to it.

  • NEW! BATTING AVERAGE: Altuve (at .307) finally took the title from Miggy midway through last season, so even if Miggy hadn't retired it would've changed hands. Altuve still gets boos for his part in the trash-can scandal but I'm a fan of the short and scrappy. Sad fact? There are only two other actives in the .300s, and one of those, Mike Trout, isn't much of a threat to Jose—less because of the .300 BA than because he doesn't hit .300 anymore. (Just once in the last five seasons.) The other guy, Freddie Freeman, at .301, is a threat, since he's been hitting at a .328 clip since joining the Dodgers. After them it's: Trea Turn at .296, Charlie Blackmon at .295, Mookie at .294. 

  • NEW! ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Last year I assumed Juan Soto would get the 333 PAs needed to reach the qualifying 3,000 career and take the mantle from Trout, and he did just that. Shame about the new uniform, though. Like with BA, there are just three actives above the magic number: Soto (.421), Trout (.412), and Joey Votto (.409). Then it's Judge, Harper, Goldschmidt, Freeman, Acuna Jr. 

  • NEW! SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: I guessed Trout might get usurped here, too, by Aaron Judge, and lo and behold. If BA and OBP have few actives at the benchmark number, SLG isn't suffering: 17 active guys are above .500: Judge (.586), Trout (.581), Acuna Jr. (.536), Stanton (.529), Arenado (.527), Betts (.526), Soto (.524), etc. Though he's fallen a bit from his lofty heights, Trout is still the only active with a career .300/.400/.500 line.

  • OPS: Which is why he's on top here at .993. Judge is about 10 points behind (.982) and Soto about 40 behind him (.945). Then Votto (.920), Acuna Jr. (917), Harper (.911), Goldschmidt (.907), and Freeman (.902). Those are our only .900+s. All-time, Trout is 12th. That includes the recently adde Negro Leagues, otherwise he's ninth.

  • NEW! GAMES: Counting numbers! Who had Elvis Andrus on their bingo card for this one? Not me, but he's atop the ... Whoops, no, the D-Backs released him. OK, so then it's Joey Votto at 2,056. Is he still with the Blue Jays? He's followed by Andrew McCutchen at 2,007. Those are the only guys above 2,000. After them it's Carlos Santana, Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Jason Heyward. 

  • NEW! HITS: This is the first year since 2010 we don't have an active member of the 3,000-hit club. Votto's total (2,135) is actually the lowest active since ... wow ... 1952, after Joe DiMaggio retired and Stan Musial took over with 2,023, on his way to 3,630. That's assuming Votto's active. Second active (or first, depending) is Freddie Freeman at 2,114. The way Freeman's come on, I'm reminded of my feelings about Adrian Beltre from 10-12 years ago: from “Great career, but probably not HOF...” to “Wow, maybe,” to “JFC, the guys' first-ballot.” Be interesting to see where FF's numbers finally land. 

  • NEW! DOUBLES: Freeman is also a doubles machine. He's led the league four times, including last year when he nearly became the first player in 80 years to hit 60, falling one short. Career, he's at 473, and 88th all-time. Barring catastrophe, he'll become the 65th player with 500 career doubles. Could he become the 19th player to 600? Or the fifth to 700? Goldschmidt's second at 413, Altuve is third with exactly 400. 

  • TRIPLES: For most of the 10+ years I've been doing this, the triples numbers have gone down down: from the 120s (Carl Crawford, Jose Reyes) to the 90s (Ichiro) to the 80s (Dexter Fowler) to, last season, the 50s with Charlie Blackmon. The good news? Blackmon is still hitting triples at age 37. Last year he ripped five more for a total of 63. Kevin Kiermaier is second at 57, with Starling Marte and Mike Trout tied for third with 52.

  • NEW! HOMERUNS: Giancarlo hit his 400th career homer on Sept. 5 and finished the season with 402. He also finished with a .191 BA after hitting .211 the previous season, so one wonders how much longer he's going to be around. He's been having so many troubles he has me rooting for him. Trout is second among actives at 368. Then it's Goldschmidt (340), Arenado (325), and Freddie Freeman (321). Where's Aaron Judge? Believe it or not, 12th at 257. 

  • NEW! RBIs: Albert retired No. 2 on the all-time list (2218), and Miggy went 13th (1881). Which leaves? It would be Evan Longoria, 183rd, with 1159 RBIs, if he signs with anyone. Then it's Joey Votto, at 1144 if he makes a team. And if it's neither of them, then it's ... Freddie Freeman at 1143—a guy who's batted No. 2 most of his career. When was the active RBI leader above the No. 3 slot in the lineup?

  • NEW! RUNS: The top (or second) RBI guy actually has more runs scored, too: 1217. After FF, it's Andrew McCutchen (1173), Votto (1171), Goldschmidt (1134), Trout (1106). 

  • BASES ON BALLS: Can you guess No. 2 on the list? It's Carlos Santana, now with the Twins, at 1231. He's about 150 behind Votto but younger by 2 1/2 years, so this might be his title soon. Career, Votto is 34th while Santana is 60th. That's right: In BBs, Carlos Santana is just behind guys named Dave Winfield and Ty Cobb. How cool is that? 

  • NEW! STRIKEOUTS: I will always be grateful to Giancarlo Stanton for being on top of the world, 59s HRs and 1.000+ OPS in 2017 with the Marlins, and then going to the Yankees and vastly underperforming. He's also our active leader in Ks with 1820. It's not the title Yankee fans want, but it's the title they get. They haven't had the K title since A-Rod's final season. Before that—Reggie? No, he was with the Angels when he took the crown. Gotta go back to Mantle in '68. No. 2 is Goldschmidt (1706), then McCutchen (1642), Freeman (1536), and Trout (1458).

  • STOLEN BASES: Last year I didn't know if Dee Strange-Gordon was done (he was ... I think), and this year I don't really know if Elvis Andrus and his 347 steals is done (he got cut by the D-Backs March 22). So let's just assume, with Baseball Reference, that the active leader is Starling Marte (338). Whither Billy Hamilton (326)? Two plate appearances last year for the ChiSox, no hits, cut in August. Altuve is fourth (or third, or second) with 293. Then it's the man with the smoothest slide in baseball history: Trea Turner at 260.

  • HIT BY PITCH: Anthony Rizzo is eighth all-time here, with 213, but yes it was an HBP too far last season and he lost half of it with a concussion. Wait, no, that was a pickoff attempt, right? That's some irony. All these HBPs but it's a Fernando Tatis hip that does him in. No active player, btw, is close to Rizz. Second is Starling Marte (154), and if you can guess the third active on this list, kudos. Ready? It's Mark Canha. Of Detroit. Used to be with Oakland. Then the Mets. Canha. I know.

  • NEW! DEFENSIVE WAR: With Andrelton Simmons gone (whoosh), the active leader is ... NOT Nolan Arenado? That's weird. No, it's high-wire act Kevin Kiermaier with 19.9 bWAR (and four GGs), followed by Arenado at 19.1 (and 10 GGs). Then: Sally Perez (15.5), Brandon Crawford (14.3) and Manny Effin' Machado (14.0).

  • WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: Not exactly news, but Mike Trout is already in the Hall of Fame. His 85.2 bWAR is the 33rd greatest ever for position players, ahead of the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Rod Carew and Joe DiMaggio. Is Mookie in the Hall yet? He's second active with 64.8. Paul Goldschmidt is at 61.5 but he's five years older than Mookie. Even so, a few more 3 seasons and he might get there. Then it's Freddie Freeman at 56.1.

  • WINS: A few years back, when he was at 226 victories, Justin Verlander said he would win 300. I guess never doubt the man who won the Kate Upton sweepstakes. He's now at 257 and playing for a team that wins. After JV, it's a bit of a dropoff: Max Sherzer has 214, Clayton Kershaw has 210. Then it's a BIIIIG dropoff: Gerritt Cole is fourth with *140*. Where are all the wins going? To middle relievers, I guess. There are only 10 actives in triple digits and one of them is Kyle Gibson. Exactly.

  • ERA: No surprises, really, among the top six: Kershaw (2.47), deGrom (2.52), Sale (3.10), Scherzer (3.14), Cole (3.16) and Verlander (3.24). Then a few surprises, at least to me: Zack Wheeler is seventh at 3.44, followed by Sonny Gray (3.47) and Kyle Hendricks (3.47). I would've thought No. 10, my man Luis Castillo (3.54), would've been ahead of them.

  • STRIKEOUTS: In the 1970s, Minneapolis kept flipping mayors. Republican Charles Stenvig was replaced by Democrat Albert Hofstede, who was replaced by Stenvig, who lost it to (yes) Hofstede. Leading to a great cartoon by Dick Guindon: a middle-aged man in his doctor's office. Doctor says, “You need to lower your stress level. Why don't you run for mayor?” Well, Verlander and Scherzer are the Stenvig and Hofstede of the active strikeouts title. Verlander had it in 2021, Scherzer in 2022, Verlander again in 2023, and now Scherzer. And no, I'm not going to update his photo.

  • BASES ON BALLS: JV has been No. 1 in this non-hit parade for several years now but he's 146th all-time with 925. He barely walks anyone anymore. Then it's Scherzer at 746, Charlie Morton at 722 and Kershaw at 669. The best don't walk anyone anymore.

  • WHIP: Three qualifying players have career WHIPs below 1.00: Addie Joss (.967), Big Ed Walsh (.999), and sandwiched between them is the oft-injured Jacob deGrom (.993). God, if he could only stay healthy.

  • NEW! COMPLETE GAMES: Verlander is at 26 and Kershaw is at 25, and one wonders if they're the last guys with 20+ complete games in baseball history. Our great hope is the Marlins' Sandy Alcantara, who has 12 at 28 years old, and is usually among the league leaders. Scherzer also has 12, while Chris Sale has 16. They're the only actives in double digits. I'd tell you where Verlander's 26 is on the all-time list, but Baseball Reference's career list only goes to 1,000. It's literally off the charts.

  • HIT BY PITCH: In which category did Charlie Morton just pass Cy Young? Hint: It wasn't complete games. Yes, Morton, with 168 HBPs, is now 12th all-time and fourth among post-WWII pitchers. The recents ahead of him? Two guys you wouldn't mind getting hit by, Charlie Hough at 174 and Tim Wakefield at 186, and one you would: Randy Johnson at 190. Randy's fifth all-time. Who's No. 1? The great Gus Weyhing! Among actives, three other guys are 100+: Sale and Scherzer (111) and Verlander (109). Where's Kershaw? 33rd! Clay don't play that.

  • NEW! SAVES: There are two guys at 400+, Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel (420 and 417), three at more than 300 (+ Aroldis Chapman at 321), and four at more than 200 (+ Edwin Diaz at 205). And that's it. Jansen and Kimbrel keep racking up saves, Chapman seems pretty much done with that portion of his career, Diaz, we hope, is just getting started. BTW: I don't think we talk enough about this: Aroldis was with the Yankees longer than any other team (seven seasons), but to get rings he had to pitch for the Cubs and the Rangers. When was the last time something like that happened? Never.

  • WAR FOR PITCHERS: It's the big three, Verlander (81.4), Kershaw (76.8) and Scherzer (74.1), Hall of Famers all, and then a big drop-off to the oft-injured (Sale and deGrom at 47.2 and 42). Gerrit Cole, shockingly, is back at 40.7 despite having pitched more innings. Is bWAR off? Or how off is bWAR? Last season, the Braves' Spencer Strider led the league in wins, strikeouts, and FIP, and he didn't finish in the Top 10 in Pitcher bWAR. He didn't even crack 4.0! Seems wrong. Should be more of a conversation around this. Maybe there is.

  • EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW):  That's the NEWS from Lake Woebegon. See you in Section 327. *FIN*
Posted at 06:40 AM on Thursday March 28, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Tuesday March 26, 2024

Rise vs. Surprise: What's Good for Baseball?

Joe Posnanski is in the midst of counting down all the MLB teams from worst (Rockies, right? Right) to best (Braves, probably), and today he landed on No. 14, the Arizona Diamondbacks. With each team, he starts out with an anything topic that's usually fun and fun to read before getting to the nitty-gritty: who's good, who might be good, what's working and what isn't. The anything topic is just where his mind goes with that particular team, and today it went to: Were the D-Backs the most suprising team this century to win the pennant? No other pennant winner this century has had a negative run differential, for example, so they're certainly in the running. Last season, they eked into the post, had a good run—through Brewers, Dodgers and Phillies—and made it to the Series. Pos then goes into our two baseball seasons: the long, 162-game one, where the best teams rise, and the short sprints of October, where teams like the D-Backs can surprise.

And he asks: Is this good for baseball? 

He asks because he doesn't think it is. Those two types of seasons are fine for other sports, but other sports always get to play their best players (unless injured), and that's not baseball, certainly not with pitchers. He writes:

If you're going to make baseball a playoff sport, then do it—140-game season, eight playoff teams in each league, 15 seven-game series filling September and October, just go all in. This will allow more teams to try and have Diamondback-like runs to glory.

And if you want to keep the 162-game season at the center of the sport, and better reward the teams that play well throughout, then scale back the playoffs to four teams in each league and have them play a seven-game series in October.

I'm with Joe on this, but I think the current Lords won't cut back on either revenue stream (reg. season or playoffs), and so won't fix the problem. 

Posted at 01:48 PM on Tuesday March 26, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday March 04, 2024

Don Gullett (1951-2024)

Clinching the pennant, age 19.

When I was a kid I'm pretty sure I kept getting Don Gullett and Don Sutton mixed up. I was in an American League city, they were both National League pitchers, and their names weren't dissimilar: Don and then two syllables: Uht-en or Uhl-et.

Talk about opposites, though. Sutton is the quintessential longevity Hall of Famer. He led the league in Game Starts once, ERA once, and never finished higher than third in Cy Young voting; but he kept plugging away: 15-13, 14-12, 11-11. He debuted in 1966, bade farewell in 1988, and in every full season until the last he appeared in 30+ games.

Gullett was more nova. He debuted in 1970 at age 19 and was done by age 27. Twenty-seven! What a rip. But in his nine seasons he pitched six times in the postseason, and in five of those the World Series: Reds in 1970, '72, '75 and '76, and, after signing a $2 million dollar deal, with the Yankees in '77. He last pitched July 9, 1978 vs. Milwaukee. He didn't get out of the first inning. It went: flyout, single, single, walk, walk (run), flyout, double (two runs), walk, walk (run), and that was it. He last faced Buck Martinez and he was replaced by Bob Kammeyer. And that was it. There would be fingers-crossed press reports about him in the NY papers for a few years but the fingers never uncrossed.

He retired with a 109-50 mark and a 3.11 ERA. In his Gullett obit, Joe Posnanski trots out this list of the best winning percentages for pitchers who won 100 games by age 27:

  1. Roger Clemens, 116-51, .695
  2. Don Gullett, 109-60, .686
  3. Dwight Gooden, 142-66, .683
  4. Jim Palmer, 122-57, .682
  5. Pedro Martinez, 107-50, .682

Poz also mentions this:

Don Gullett was a private person. He was a farmer after he finished playing, he and Cathy had three children. He was the only major Big Red Machine player who declined to talk with me for my book The Machine. He was kind about it. He just said that he didn't really want to look back and didn't think he could add anything. “Other people remember better than I do,” he said.

When he debuted at age 19, players were agog. Willie Stargell said “He could throw a ball through a carwash without it ever getting wet.” Pete Rose said the same thing. He was on the mound, age 19, when the Reds clinched the pennant against the Pirates in 1970. He was the pitcher who set up the incredible Game 6 of the 1975 World Series by shutting down the Red Sox in Game 5—going 8 2/3 while giving up 2 in a 6-2 victory. He was the Game 7 starter, too, before Merv Rettenmund pinch-hit for him in the top of the 5th. He left, down 3-0, but—and you may have heard this—the Reds came back to win it, 4-3, for their first championship since 1940. They won again the following year. He didn't pitch well for the Yankees in the '77 postseason but he got another ring with them. Then the injuries piled up and he couldn't come back from them.

Apparently, growing up in Kentucky, he was some kind of all-around athlete. Posnanski mentions a high school football game where Gullett rushed for 410(!) yards and scored 11(!) touchdowns. In high school basketball, he averaged 22 points a game. “As a pitcher in his senior year,” Poz writes, “he struck out 120 batters in 52 innings and threw a perfect game where he struck out 20 of the 21 batters he faced.”

He died earlier this month, age 73. No cause mentioned. Private to the end.

Posted at 12:39 PM on Monday March 04, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday February 19, 2024

Brant Alyea (1940-2024)

I remember his card more than him. He came to the Minnesota Twins in my first baseball heyday, 1970-71, and had a good first season and a great first month, but he didn't break through the Killebrew-Oliva-Carew-Tovar-Cardenas collective for me. But I was happy to get his card. He was a Twin. 

Alyea, it turns out, was a big bopper in the minors who first played in the Majors for the Washington Senators (II). On Sept. 12, 1965, in his Major League hitting debut, he pinchhit for Don Blasingame with one out and two on in the 7th and the Senators ahead of the Angels 3-0. And he went deep off Rudy May. On the first Major League pitch he saw. How do you like them apples? 

Apparently the Senators didn't. Or they saw a weakness in his game. Or they were just dumb. Because after that not-bad cup of coffee (.231/.286/.692 in eight games), he didn't make the squad again until July 1968. And in late March 1970 he was traded to the AL West champion Minnesota Twins for Joe Grzenda and Charlie Walters—two other Twins I don't recall much about.

Alyea must've felt freed from Senatorial shackles because with the Twins he had an April for the ages: .415/.483/.774, including 5 homeruns and 23 RBIs in 17 games. He became the talk of the Twin Cities and made the cover of Sporting News in early May. And then, well, a little regression to the mean. But a nice 1970 season: .291/.366/.531. He drove in 61 and hit 16 homers in 94 games. I guess he and Jim Holt platooned in left. But by then he was already 30, and he either aged fast, got injured, or the league figured him out, because the next year his line was not good: .177/.282/.241. His power was gone: 28 hits and just six for extra bases. 

That November he was a Rule 5 acquisition by the Oakland A's, who traded him to the Cardinals in May 1972, and then this line on Baseball Reference: “Brant Alyea returned to original team on July 23, 1972.” What does that mean? “Here, have him back”? Less than two years after he made the cover of Sporting News, he was out of baseball. Apparently he went on to run crap tables at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City. Shame he didn't last a little longer. With all those vowels in his name, he could've become a New York Times crossword staple. He died at home on Feb. 4.

Posted at 08:02 PM on Monday February 19, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Wednesday January 31, 2024

Postseason Droughts, .350, and the Ol' Doubles, Triples and Homers Question

Can Shohei do something nobody's done since Johnny Mize in 1941?

I meant to write this in November, then got busy. And then the world fell apart. Now we're just a few weeks from pitchers and catchers. So let's look at the baseball questions that I (and maybe only I?) am interested in:

Did anyone hit. 350 in 2023?

Yes! For the first time in a full season since 2010, when Josh Hamilton hit .359, we had a .350 hitter in the Majors: my man Luis Arráez. He won the AL batting title in 2022 with my Minnesota Twins, hitting. 316, was traded to the Miami Marlins in the off-season, and promptly won the NL title with a .354 average. Don't think that's ever happened before—i.e., winning a title, traded, winning another title. It's rare enough to trade a batting champion, though I guess the Twins did it before under different circumstances. In 1978, Rod Carew won his seventh batting crown with the Twins, hitting .333. Then in the off-season Twins owner Calvin Griffith got drunk at a Lions Club meeting in Waseca and spewed racist BS and called Carew “a damned fool” for accepting below-market value. Carew demanded a trade and got one—to the California Angels, where he continued to excel, hitting .314 over seven seasons, but never won another crown.

Arráez was hitting .400+ as late as June 24, and ended July at .381, so there was actually .400 talk. Then August hit and he didn't; just .236 for the month. But he recovered in September to get above .350. That .350 drought between 2010 and 2023 (for full seasons) is the longest in MLB history. By far. It's 11 seasons, leaving aside the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. The previous record was five seasons: 1962-66.

Oh, and the last guy to hit .360 in a season? Also a Twin: Joe Mauer in 2009. For those scoring at home. 

Is anyone closer to becoming the first player since Johnny Mize to lead the league in doubles, triples and homers at some point in their career?

Yes! And guess who? SHOHEI. Big surprise. If someone is going to do something that hasn't been done in MLB in nearly a century, Shohei always seems to be the guy. 

Here's the background on that stat. Only seven players in modern MLB history (sans 19th c.) have ever led the league in all three extra-base categories—doubles, triples and homers—during their careers, and, yes, Mize was the last to do it, completing the triumverate in 1941. 

Here's the 2023 leaders in those three categories:

AL Corey Seager (TEX) Bobby Witt Jr. (KCR) Shohei Ohtani (LAA)
NL Freddie Freeman (LAD) Corbin Carroll (ARI) Matt Olson (ATL)

Freeman is a doubles machine—he hit 59—and it's the fourth time he's led the league in the category. But he's never led in triples and homer. Ditto Kyle's kid brother, who led the NL in doubles in 2019. Witt Jr. and Carroll were both rookies, so obvious firsts for both of them. It's also the first for Matt Olson.

Shohei, meanwhile, is missing a category, doubles, that seems doable. Up to now, the active players with two of the three were either light-hitting guys that needed homers (Whit Merrifield and Cesar Hernandez, and the latter didn't play last year and seems done), or they were aging slowpokes that needed triples (Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper).

But Shohei, an impressive combo of power and speed, has already led the league in triples. He did it in 2021 and nearly did it again last year. Add the HR title and he just needs doubles. One wonders if he actually has too much power and too much speed to do this. Mantle and Mays were two such guys who never did the doubles thing. Shohei's career high is 30, from 2022, and that's not going to lead anything, particularly with new teammate Freddie Freeman around. Still, he's got a better shot than Bryce Harper has with triples or Whit Merrifeld with homers. I'll be watching to see if he does it. 

Which team has the longest postseason drought?

For a number of years, this belonged to my Seattle Mariners, who went in 2001 and then not again until 2022. Now it's a tie between the Tigers and Angels. Both last went in 2014. After that? Pirates and Royals, both of whom last went in 2015. The Royals, of course, won it all in '15 so that takes some of the sting out. The Pirates? Oof...

Which team has the longest pennant drought? 

Still my Seattle Mariners, born in 1977 and pennantless ever since. A close second is the Pittsburgh Pirates, who last saw the World Series in 1979.

Which teams haven't won a pennant this century?

Nine teams: M's (n/a), Pirates (1979), Brewers (1982), Orioles (1983), Reds (1990), Athletics (1990), Twins (1991), Blue Jays (1993) and the Padres (1998). 

Which team has the longest World Series championship drought?

Still the Cleveland Indians, who have not won it since 1948, though they've been four times since: 1954, 1995, 1997 and 2016. Then it's a big jump to the Padres and Brewers (b., 1969). Then You-Know-Who.

Which teams have never won the World Series?

A year ago there were six. Now, thanks to the Rangers great October run, there are five: Padres and Brewers (b., 1969), Mariners (1977), Rockies (1993) and Rays (1998).

Posted at 10:57 AM on Wednesday January 31, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday January 14, 2024

Bud Harrelson (1944-2024)

Bud Harrelson was born on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and spent much of his life battling. In the 1973 NLCS, to give a famous example, the Mets and the Reds were tied one game apiece, but in the third game the Mets were up 9-2 (they would eventually win the series in five), and with one out in the top of the 5th, Pete Rose lashed a single. Then Joe Morgan ground into a double play. End of inning. Except as Harrelson was turning the DP at second, Rose came in hard, the two exchanged words and then threw punches. Benches cleared.

Harrelson, it should be added, was not exactly a big man. His 1973 Topps baseball card lists him as 5'11“, 155. Pete Rose, that same year, is listed as 5'11”, 195. The difference is apparent in a photo of the incident:

I always hated Pete Rose because he seemed like a bully to me (cf., Ray Fosse), and this did nothing to discourage that feeling. It also made me like Bud Harrelson all the more. He was small, like me, but he took no shit. The world is full of people like Pete Rose, too stupid or driven (or both) to know what bullies they are, and it's nice when someone who looks like us has grit enough to stand up to them.

He exemplified the shortstops of the era. Ernie Banks came along in the 1950s, hitting homeruns, but he was an anomaly. Robin Yount and then Cal Ripken followed in the 1980s, changing things a bit, and then the triumverate of A-Rod, Jeter and Nomar changed things forever in the 1990s. But when I first started paying attention to the game, in the early 1970s, shortstops were thin, light hitting, and good fielding, and Bud was all of the above. Here's a comparison of the lifetime stats of some of the era's perennial All-Stars, sorted by career homeruns:

Bud Harrelson .236 .327 .288 20.3 7
Don Kessinger .252 .314 .312 8.9 14
Mark Belanger .228 .300 .280 41.0 20
Bert Campaneris .259 .311 .342 53.1 70
Dave Concepcion .267 .322 .357 40.1 101

Yes, Bud managed just seven career homeruns, didn't slug .300, but among the five had the highest OBP. It's nearly 100 points higher than his batting average.

(BTW, how good of a fielder was Mark Belanger? Look at his career batting splits and then look at his bWAR. That good. Campy's 53.1 bWAR, meanwhile, should be getting him into more Hall of Fame discussions.)

Bud, it turns out, was the starting shortstop for that great 1971 All-Star Game when Reggie Jackson nearly destroyed Tiger Stadium with a homerun, and six future Hall of Famers, all all-time greats, hit homeruns. Here they are in the order of when they went deep: Johnny Bench (2nd inning), Henry Aaron (3rd), Reggie Jackson (3rd), Frank Robinson (3rd), Harmon Killebrew (6th), Roberto Clemente (8th). Split evenly between AL and NL, but the AL homers were all two-run shots and they won it 6-4. A rare victory back then for them. I just love that light-hitting Bud Harrelson was the starting shortstop for this game. If he looked around he saw Bench behind the plate, Willie McCovey at first, and a starting outfield of Henry Aaron, Willie Mays and Willie Stargell. Wow. 

After his death on Thursday, from Alzehimer's complications at age 79, I was reading obits and honorariums, and checking out the images online, including Topps cards, 3-D cards, and Milk Dud images, when I came across Bud on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1970. Look who's at his feet.

Posted at 04:47 PM on Sunday January 14, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Friday November 17, 2023

Hangover IV

Yesterday, every team in Major League Baseball approved the move of the Oakland Athletics to Las Vegas. It is the third Oakland team in the last four years to bolt the city:

  • 2019: Golden State Warriors —> SF
  • 2020: Oakland Raiders —> Las Vegas
  • 2023: This

In celebration, on Threads, the A's organization posted the following:

A's social media coordinator: Oooh, 76 replies! Fun! Let's see what we got! Dum da dum da dum... *Click*

  • fuck you
  • MLB only cares about profits. They care nothing about the fans.
  • Fuck you x2
  • Never. I will not visit even for a Giants game
  • Fuck you
  • Not a fan of the As but this is a big f u to the fans in Oakland. The bad thing for the team as well is I have seen no people from Las Vegas saying they even care.
  • Nothing to be proud of.
  • Thanks for the virtual poke in the eye.
  • Bad move. Horrible look. You will fail.
  • Piss off!
  • fuck off
  • Fuck you.

Someone mentioned there wasn't a positive comment in the bunch—I certainly couldn't find one. Not even a sock-puppet account to say something good. The key, I think, is what one of the commentators mentions above: Nobody in Vegas cares. If anyone in Vegas notices. Apparently it's all about the gambling. I think of Sonny Corleone: “There's a lot of money in that white powder.” That's MLB now. “There's a lot of money in that addiction.”

Was Portland ever a consideration? I'm curious. Or is it too soccer-y these days? Or doesn't the city want to shell out the billions it costs to get to have nine men toss around a ball?

It's sad. When I was growing up, there were three great mini-dynasties: The Baltimore Orioles (1969-71), the Oakland A's (1972-74) and the Cincinnati Reds (1975-76). The A's probably weren't as good as the others, to be honest, but they did better: They won three World Series in a row. They're the only non-Yankee team to make that claim. And they were memorable. They grew long hair and moustaches, and wore kelly green and yellow unis, and Charlie Finley gave half the team nicknames: “Blue Moon” Odom, “Catfish” Hunter. They had the most exciting starting pitcher in baseball (Vida Blue), the game's first superduperstar (Reggie Jackson), and one of the game's first closers, a guy with a 19th century-era handlebar moustache (Rollie Fingers). Plus the staid regulars: Joe Rudi, Campy Campaneris, Dick Green, captain Sal Bando. They were so popular, comic books were made about them.

Then there's the Bash Brothers of the 1980s, the “Moneyball” A's of the early 2000s, and then of course the 50 years of Connie Mack baseball. And they won! In terms of overall championships, the A's are tied for third with Boston: nine each. They tended to have rashes of success followed by decades of doldrums: 1910-1914; 1929-1931; 1972-74; 1988-1990. “Moneyball,” for all its hype, never even got them back to the World Series.

They kept going west, young man: from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland. Now Vegas. Three steps forward, one step back.

Posted at 09:54 AM on Friday November 17, 2023 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday November 02, 2023

And Then There Were Five

The Texas Rangers celebrate winning the first World Series in franchise history after beating the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-0 last night.

I feel a little like Flat Nose Curry, the member of the Hole in the Wall Gang played by future “Police Woman” actor Charles Dierkop, who, after the KNIFE FIGHT(???) between Butch and Harvey (“Adams Family” actor Ted Cassidy), runs up to Butch, the surprise winner, and exults:

Flat Nose: I was really rooting for ya, Butch!
Butch: Well, thank you, Flatnose. That's what sustained me in my time of trouble.

That's me after the Texas Rangers won the World Series last night. I was really rooting for ya, Texas! Well, only after the Mariners were knocked out, of course. And I guess I was iffy on the Rays series, and definitely wanted the Orioles in there, and at times, with Houston, it was like, “A replay of 2022, Houston/Philly, wouldn't be too bad.” And once the Series started, I mean, I do like Ketel Marte.

But I was really rooting for ya, Texas!

OK, so Texas I have no use for, particularly electorally, since it's anti-American and pushing us toward fascism. But Adolis Garcia and Corey Seager, the fire-and-ice of the club? And Dad-bod model Jordan Montgomery, Bradley Cooper doppelganger Nathan Eovaldi, and the eerily quiet and calm and beautiful Jose Leclerc? And above all Evan Carter, the kid who went from AA ball in August, to AAA in September, to making his Major League debut on Sept. 8 against Oakland (the shallow end of the pool), and for the rest of the season went .306/.413/.645, and in the postseason kept hitting doubles and climbing the ladder of the batting order until he was ensconsed in the Griffey spot, third, the spot of all spots, and handled it all with aplomb? Well, those guys were fun.

The Texas Rangers, began, of course, as the second iteration of the Washington Senators, and followed the great tradition of the first by being first in war, first in peace and last in the American League. I've posited that no team began as ineptly as the Seattle Mariners, who didn't poke their head above .500 until their 15th season, and still haven't won a pennant after 47 mostly meh years, but Texas has an argument. They lost 100+ games each of their first four seasons, so didn't poke their heads above .400 until Season Five. They did get to .500 sooner, going 86-76 in 1969 under new skipper Ted Williams, but the next season, with the same skipper, they were back underwater. They moved to Texas in '72 and show the fans there what they were all about by losing 100+ their first two seasons. Then they got Billy Martin as manager and had a winning season. Then they lost Billy Martin and submerged again. 

This is brutal: they didn't make the postseason until 1996—their 36th season—and didn't win a postseason series until 2010. That was the year they won their first pennant but lost the WS in five to the Tim Lincecum-led San Francisco Giants. But the next year was theirs ... until it wasn't. They were one out away from a title but Nelson Cruz couldn't track down David Freese's line shot into the corner and it went into extras and they kept running into David Freese and at the end it was the Cardinals with their 11th title rather than the Rangers with their first. In the mid-2010s, they made the postseason a few years in a row but were at the tail-end of the Jose Bautista bat flip, and never got into the ALCS. Two season ago, they lost 100+ again. Last season they lost 90+. Then they hired Bruce Bochy as manager. 

I've been wondering a lot lately how much a manager helps. They're not like football or basketball coaches, forever drawing up plays and new strategies, but Bochy seemed like a good guy to play for: calm, smart, he liked his gum. Joe Posnanski's Poscast prediction about Texas last March was something along the lines of “I think they're good?” He saw them leading the division but stumbling after June. Turns out they led the division but stumbled after August, then righted themselves, then lost the division on the last game of the season—to my Mariners, playing for pride—meaning rather than resting up they had to take on the Tampa Bay Rays who had home-field advantage. But these Rangers turned “home-field advantage” on its head. They didn't lose an away game the entire postseason. Took two from Tampa Bay in Tampa Bay, beat the O's twice of two in Balmer, beat the Astros four of four in Houston, and came into Phoenix tied 1-1 with the D-Backs and swept the table. Pretty amazing run.

So who's left among the have-nots, the scroungy and sad and title-less teams? These five: 

  • Brewers (est. 1969)
  • Padres (est. 1969)
  • Mariners (est. 1977)
  • Rockies (est. 1993)
  • Rays (est. 1998)

The Rangers finally won it in their 63rd season, which is the third-longest any team has taken—after the Phillies (78 seasons), and the Browns/Orioles (64 seasons). Celebrate, Texas, because you can. I feel a little badly for the D-Backs, and for former M's closer Paul Sewald, so good in the playoffs, so not in the World Series. I feel a little badly, too, or bemusedly badly, for the likes of Evan Carter. I hope he knows runs like this are rare beasts. I hope someone tells him, “You know, it's not usually like this around here.”

Posted at 08:59 AM on Thursday November 02, 2023 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Tuesday October 31, 2023

Frank Howard (1936-2023)

I grew up fearing Frank Howard. Not because of his size—though at 6' 7, 270, he was one of the biggest position players to ever play the game, today included—but because in my early baseball-watching and baseball-card-collecting days he always competed with my man Harmon Killebrew for the AL Homerun and RBI crowns. I hated getting one of those AL Leader cards with Frank on top.  

Ironically, Frank's career high in homeruns came in 1969, with 48, but Harmon hit 49 that year and won the MVP. His only one. Frank finished fourth, his highest finish. 

(And yes, the AL was awfully white back then, particularly compared to sluggers in the NL. The direction each league went in the late 1940s was still being felt in 1970.)

Both Frank and Harmon fell off about the same time, and rather quickly. In 1970 they were at the top, and then it all went away. Or it dropped a bit, then dribbled away as it tends to. Frank's HR totals went from 44 to 26 to 10, then he hit 12 more with the Tigers and was done; he retired after the '73 season. He later became a coach and briefly (very briefly) a manager: Padres for 110 games in '81, Mets for 116 in '83. He never had a winning record as a manager. Not many wins as a player, either, though he came up with a winning team, the LA Dodgers, and won Rookie of the Year in 1960; and in the 1963 World Series he mashed a monster double off Whitey Ford in Game 1, then a monster, second-deck home run off Whitey Ford in Game 4, and that last one was the margin of victory in a Dodgers sweep. But in December 1964, the Dodgers, feeling they needed pitching (!), traded Frank and others for Claude Osteen and others and cash, and Big Frank spent his glory years with the abysmal Washington Senators, who, though they were the second iteration, still fit the first's tagline: first in war, first in peace, last in the American League.

In '69, though, Ted Williams became his manager, and though he's usually not given much credit as a manager, or coach, Frank does just that. “He was just light years ahead of everybody,” Frank told a Washington Nats blog in 2007. “He didn't mess much with you mechanically—if you had played 6-8 years in the big leagues—unless you had absolutely no success. Then he would make some mechanical changes for you. But he never messed with your head. He was a thinking man's hitter.”

What he did with Frank was get him to take some pitches, to tighten the zone of what he'd swing at. And this is what happened. Look at how his walks jumped and strikeouts subsided.

1968 141 54 .274 .338 .890
1969 96 102 .296 .406 .976
1970 125 132 .283 .416 .962

Here's Frank's NY Times obit, with the hed/sub below, and oops they did it again:


I'm referring to the end of the sub. Sure, Big Frank struck out a bit (he had a big strike zone), and when he retired he was fifth on the all-time list—behind some all-time greats: Mantle, Killebrew, Mays and Mathews—but he only led the league in Ks once, and was in the top 10 only three times. His strikeout rate was more than 19%, which is up there for the time but would pale compared to those who came later: Reggie (22.7%), Thome (24.7%), Ryan Howard (28%), Chris Davis (32.9%). Just seems like an odd thing to bring up in an obit. But Times' obits have done this before: Bud Grant, Jim Fregosi, Fred Snodgrass.

Frank was nicknamed “Hondo,” after the John Wayne character, and was called “The Washington Monument,” and “The Gentle Giant,” and apparently (like Killebrew) was. He was a nice guy. He came on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1979—same year as Willie Mays—got a total of six votes and was done. He deserved better. Joe Posnanski has written a nice tribute about attending a game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium when he was 10 with his immigrant father: 

And Dad put his hand on my shoulder and pointed toward the first base coaching box, and said, “Look! There's Frank Howard!”

Two things stand out in my recollection. One was how big Frank Howard looked. He was the biggest human being I'd ever seen. In his peak playing days, Frank Howard was 6-foot-7, 270 or so pounds, but by the time I saw him there in the Milwaukee coaching box, he was probably 50 or 60 pounds heavier. To me, he looked even bigger than that. Hondo absolutely towered over Cleveland's first baseman, Andre Thornton, who I had thought of as one of the biggest men in the world.

The second thing that stands out is the reverence in my father's voice. "There's Frank Howard! He said it like we were stargazing, and he was pointing out Ursa Major.

Posted at 01:47 PM on Tuesday October 31, 2023 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday October 28, 2023

Comm. Poz

We had a good Game 1 of the 2023 World Series last night. The Rangers scored early with some nice hitting and baserunning from Evan Carter, who, two months ago, was playing AA ball and now is batting third for the American League champions. How do you get a better story than that? Maybe with Corey Seager's 2-run, ninth-inning, game-tying bomb of a homerun? (That's more emotion than I've ever seen from him.) Or Adolis Garcia's opposite-field walk-off in the 11th after being hit by yet another pitch? (That's about the same emotion I see from him.) He keeps getting hit by pitches and then keeps mashing homeruns. You wonder when they'll stop hitting him with pitches. 

Joey Poz (not Joey Pants) goes deep on Adolis in his column today, worth reading, fun reading, but I wanted to quote some from one of his posts earlier this month, way back on Oct. 4, when he indulges himself a bit by talking about what he'd do if he were Commissioner of Baseball. It's a question he gets asked often, he says, and his answer (he also says) is usually uninteresting because he takes it too seriously. He thinks too much of the fans and the limits of his power. So this is his answer if he didn't give a shit about any of that. Oddly, in speaking from the heart, he winds up speaking for this fan:

I would work out a deal with Oakland, expand the game to Nashville and Montreal, create eight divisions, and I would have the eight division winners, and only the eight division winners, make the playoffs.

Eight is plenty of playoff teams for baseball. Heck, I could probably be talked into four.

I also would limit teams to 10 pitchers (this could be a gradual decrease over, say, five years), and I would come up with incentives to get starting pitchers to stay in the games longer, and I would be very public with my disappointment any time a manager took out a starter throwing a no-hitter or took out a hitter with a chance to do something historic, and I would get rid of the zombie runner, and I would work out a rule to stop position players from pitching so much, and I would bring back bullpen cars, and I would create Larry Doby Day, and I would make Opening Day in Cincinnati every year, and I would probably bring back the four-pitch intentional walk (to give fans the fair chance to boo), and I would ...

... It would be a busy first day.

Not to get all Molly Bloom about this, but: Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!!!!

What would I do beyond this? I gotta give that some thought. That'll be a Comm. Lundy column.

Posted at 04:32 PM on Saturday October 28, 2023 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Wednesday October 25, 2023

Wild-Card World Series

Not exactly the T&A the networks want to show.

“Paul Sewald shuts them down in the ninth to take the Mariners to the World Series!!!!”

What? Oh, the M's traded Paul Sewald to the Arizona Diamondbacks in July? And they're the ones going to the World Series? While my Seattle Mariners didn't even make the postseason? While we just missed the postseason? While we needed to win four of four against the Texas Rangers in the final weekend but only won three of four, and now those self-same Texas Rangers, whom we beat three of four, are facing off against the Arizona Diamondbacks for the title?

Yeah, sounds about right.

I didn't even get to NLCS MVP Ketel Marte being a Mariner, too. He came up through our system. We traded him in 2016. Fun.

I forget who I wanted to see in the World Series at the start of this neverending postseason (Baltimore vs....?) but by the time the LCS hit I was hoping for Texas/Philly. Almost got my wish. Unfortunately, in Game 7, Corbin Carroll brought his A-game (3-4, 2R, 2RBI, 2SB), while many otherwise otherworldly Phillies flailed: Turner, Castellanos, even Harper to an extent. The three of them in that final game went a combined 0-12, and worse, it felt like they would. It wasn't like, “Uh oh, here's Harper.” It was “Yeah, I don't think he's going to do anything.” He didn't even project menace. To be honest, I think he might be injured. And thus whatever mojo the Phils had at the start of all this stopped mojoing. 

This is the second year of the new playoff system that's supposed to reward the long season by giving a first-round bye to the division winners with the best records, and thus far that reward looks unrewarding. No NL first-round bye team has won a division series or even forced a fifth game. It's been 100-win Braves and Dodgers teams both years, so maybe there's something wrong with those orgs that prevent them winning (or even competing in) short series? I don't know.

  • 2022 NLDS1: Phillies (87-75) over Braves (101-61), 3 games to 1
  • 2022 NLDS2: Padres (89-73) over Dodgers (111-51), 3 games to 1
  • 2023 NLDS1: Phillies (90-72) over Braves (104-58), 3 games to 1
  • 2023 NLDS2: D-Backs (84-78) over Dodgers (100-62), 3 games to 0

The AL, thanks mostly to Houston, has been different. Last season, they beat the Mariners 3-0, while the division-winning Yankees squeaked by the Guardians 3-2. This season, Houston beat the Twins (3-1) while the 101-win Orioles lost to the wild-card Rangers.

Many think the first-round bye is still a boon, and the above is too short a sample size. I think the above is too important to let lie for a larger sample size, but that's me. Either way, we now have an all-wild card World Series: the 90-win Rangers vs. the 84-win D-Backs. I'm backing the Rangers. They're one of six franchises to never win a World Series (chronologically by year of expansion: Rangers, Brewers, Padres, Mariners, Rockies, Rays), and I wouldn't mind if it was five. Plus Mariners fans could say we beat the World Series champions three of four in that final weekend of the regular season. That'll be our World Series. The way things are going, it may be as close as we get.

Posted at 08:02 AM on Wednesday October 25, 2023 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday October 12, 2023

The Curse of the 100-Game Winners

The 2023 Minnesota Twins are done, losing their ALDS to the Houston Astros three games to one before a hometown crowd. Not welcome but not exactly unexpected.

The 100+ win Orioles are also done (three and out against Texas), as are the 100+ win Dodgers (three and out against Arizona), and the 100+ win Braves are on the brink, down two games to one to Philadelphia. These things were unexpected. Kinda.

Last year, MLB restructured its playoff system to allow for two more teams, bringing the total up to 12; and to quiet concerns that this was making the long, 162-game season kind of irrelevant, they said the really good teams would get a bye in the first round so they wouldn't have to fight for their life in a best-of-three series. They could wait on the sidelines and watch. It's a reward!

But is it? Here's Joey Poz yesterday:

Sure, you get a first-round bye and the chance to line up your rotation... but you also have to sit around and get rusty for five days, which probably dulls the advantage (or perhaps, depending on who you're listening to, even puts you as a DISadvantage).

As of this moment, the five teams that won 92 or more games are 1-10 in the postseason, the one win being the Braves' miraculous comeback against the Phillies in NLDS Game 2.

And while he suggests that it may be a one-year blip, he adds, via asterisk, that in the NL last year, “the four teams that won 92-plus games went 3-10 in the playoffs, none of them winning a series.”

Wouldn't that be amazing? If, in restructuring the playoff systsem to give greater advantage to the better teams, MLB, in its continued quest for more postseason revenue, actually did the opposite? 

This should be the No. 1 topic for baseball fans everywhere.

Posted at 08:00 AM on Thursday October 12, 2023 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
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