Baseball posts

Thursday January 26, 2023

Rolen Elected to HOF, Kent Fans Cry Foul

My sister and I at the Baseball Hall of Fame  in 1973—my one trip there! It was the year they inducted Warren Spahn and (by special ballot) Roberto Clemente, while ignoring Whitey Ford, Johnny Mize, Robin Roberts, Duke Snider and Ralph Kiner, among others. 

Joe Posnanski has a good piece on the social-media backlash against Jeff Kent falling off the ballot after 10 years. Here are the arguments he's seen in favor of the former Giants second baseman. Kent was...

  • ...the greatest power-hitting second baseman ever
  • ...the greatest offensive second baseman of all time
  • ...only dissed because he was not nice to the press
  • ...being unfairly compared to players of previous generations (Kent's own argument)

To which Poz basically goes: 1) sorry, 2) not at all, 3) nope, and 4) isn't that the point? In fact, isn't the main argument Kent supporters make—that he hit more homers than any second baseman—comparing him to previous generations? All of those homers, though, do not mean Kent was the greatest power-hitting second baseman ever, Poz adds, and certainly not the greatest offensive force at second ever. In that, Kent takes a bit of a backseat to guys like Hornsby, Joe Morgan, Eddie Collins, Jackie Robinson.

If you're going to make Jeff Kent's Hall of Fame case, just make it honestly. I could give you an honest Jeff Kent case, one that points to the fact that he hit 377 home runs, most for a second baseman (different from saying he was the greatest power-hitting second baseman) and he was incredibly consistent, and he was a key part of some fine teams, and he won an MVP award and had a few other seasons where he got MVP consideration, and in his prime with San Francisco, he probably was an average defensive second baseman, and he was a very good run producer for almost a full decade for three different teams.

But the majority of voters think that case falls short.

Good piece.

A few days ago, Poz ran down his HOF ballot, with no Kent on it, and his 1-10 choices. What struck me was how his 7-8-9 picks (Manny Ramirez, A-Rod and Gary Sheffield) were way more interesting, and fun, than his 1-2-3 choices (Scott Rolen, Todd Helton, Carlos Beltran). I mean, sure, vote those guys. But they don't exactly loom large like the others, do they? I'm missing looming. 

In case you missed it, only Rolen made the cut. “It'll either be nobody or Rolen” I wrote back in November, and that's what we got. There seems to be a more fun path somewhere, just not sure how we get on it. 

Posted at 01:10 PM on Thursday January 26, 2023 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday January 22, 2023

Sal Bando (1944-2023)

Coming your way, Bob.

The only foul ball caught during my childhood by someone I know was hit by Sal Bando, the captain of the world champion Oakland A's, in the early to mid-1970s.

Our family and family friends were sitting in the wood-bench section along the third-base/right-field side of Metropolitan Stadium, as was our wont, and my father and older brother left to go to the bathroom. For some reason not many foul balls came our way, at least not in my memory, but I do remember Sal's. I think my stomach dropped a bit. Yeah, I was more afraid than excited. But it fell short of us, dropping into the concourse area between the box seats and the bench seats. A few minutes later, my father was walking back up to our row, grinning wide, holding the ball triumphantly aloft. He'd been waiting for Chris outside the men's room, which was in the concourse area, when Bando's foul ball caromed off a wall and back toward him. I think he had to fight a teenaged kid for it. “I played it off the wall like Clemente,” Dad said later.

I wonder if baseball players realize that almost every foul ball they hit is a piece of immortality. You catch one, you don't forget. For me, it's Tino Martinez and Chili Davis; for Tim, it's Felix Fermin and Ken Griffey Jr.; for Mike, it's ... OK, someday, Mr. B.

That A's team was glorious: long-haired and moustachioed by design—owner Charlie Finley gave them bonuses to grow them out—they were kelly green-wearing bad asses, stomping all over both leagues. They had the most exciting pitcher in the game, Vida Blue, and maybe the most exciting player—Reggie Jackson, baseball's first superduperstar, per a 1974 Sports Illustrated cover story—plus great role players all around. I remember the talk at the time was how left fielder Joe Rudi might be the most underrated player in baseball, but if you look at advanced metrics like bWAR it's gotta be Bando. He got MVP votes from 1969 to 1974 but never won—he came in second in '71 when it went to Vida Blue—but during that period, per a recent SABR quiz, he had the highest bWAR is baseball. Yep, higher than Johnny Bench, Dick Allen, Rod Carew, or Joe Morgan. His career slash line isn't superdupery (.254/.352/.408), but he did everything well enough that his career bWAR (61.5) is near Hall of Fame level.

Which means, of course, that during his first year of eligibility, 1987, he got exactly three votes, 0.7%, and fell off the ballot. Meanwhile, that same year, his former teammate, Jim “Catfish” Hunter, marched in with 315 votes and a 40.9 bWAR.

And yet ... you gotta wonder about bWAR. Other measures, like leading the league in various important stats, or appearing in the top 10, Hunter is through the roof and Bando is nowhere. Even so, Bando's case is much better than it appeared in the '80s—certainly worth more than a one-and-done. Plus he was captain of the only team besides the Yankees to win three straight World Series championships. Plus my family will never forget him.

He was 78. Five-year battle with cancer.

Posted at 12:25 PM on Sunday January 22, 2023 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Tuesday January 03, 2023

Boxscores: May 30, 1935

Not a bad game. Phillies took an early 3-0 lead, Braves came back to tie it 4-4, then went ahead 5-4 in the 6th and 6-4 in the 7th. But the Phillies ended any suspense by scoring 7 runs in the botom of the 8th to put it away.

That said, it wasn't exactly important in the standings. It's the first game of a late May 1935 doubleheader between two historically bad teams who were even worse this particular year. The Phillies would finish the season 64-89, .418, the second-worst team in the National League. But they were miles ahead of the Braves, who finished 38-115, .248, and are contenders for the worst team in baseball history.

So why am I writing about it? It's the last game ever played by Babe Ruth. He started in left field, went 0-1, and was removed, or more likely took himself out, for Hal Lee, who went 3-4 in a losing effort. Here's Lee's Baseball Reference page. He played seven seasons (1930-36) for perennial losers: the Braves, Phillies and Brooklyn Dodgers/Robins. His career slash line was .275/.326/.392. He led the league in nothing except, in his final season, grounding into double plays. He wound up playing in the Texas League after all that, and became a manager. He died in 1989.

So what did Ruth do with his at-bat? How did he make an out? All I know is he didn't strike out but I'm having trouble finding more info. This is from the Philadelphia Inquirer's story on the game:

Babe Ruth's failure to play more than one inning was the only disappointment that the crowd was forced to bear. The big Bambino limped out into left field to start the first game, batted once and played one inning and then retired to the clubhouse to pet his creaking joints.

Could you do a SABR trivia week on this? Players who replaced legends in their final games? I know there's also Michael Saunders for Ken Griffey Jr., for example. And I just looked up Jim Gantner pinch-running for Henry Aaron. Don't know if it's a quiz, though. 

Posted at 11:49 AM on Tuesday January 03, 2023 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday December 31, 2022

Cullum's Column's Conjecture

In my research for the HBO Willie Mays doc—particularly the stuff the doc missed, the Minneapolis reaction to losing Willie when he was called up to the New York Giants after two months with the Millers—I came across sports columnist Dick Cullum writing about Mays' departure. Researching anything like this, you brace yourself for all kinds of bad. It's a white man writing about a black man more than 70 years ago, at a time when Major League Baseball had been integrated for all of four seasons. Martin Luther King was still getting his Bachleor of Divinity degree from Crozer and Emmett Till was still alive. 

But what I got was a pretty good description of what playing center field in the Polo Grounds was like, and how great players either rose or fell with the challenge, and how would Mays do?

Sure, Cullum couches what he writes: either/or; worst or best. But he seems to be leaning toward the positive: “...it will make him a hero faster than any other area could do the job...”

He wasn't wrong.

Posted at 06:54 AM on Saturday December 31, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday December 08, 2022

McGriff in the Hall

Last Sunday the Baseball Hall of Fame had a vote to determine which players from the contemporary era (1980 on), who weren't already in the Hall, might deserve the honor. There were 16 voters, and you needed 12 of them, 75%, to get in. I think each voter got three votes. This is how it went:

  • Fred McGriff, 16 votes, 100%
  • Don Mattingly, 8 votes, 50%
  • Curt Schilling, 7 votes, 44%
  • Dale Murphy, 6 votes, 38%
  • Albert Belle, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro, fewer than 4 votes.*

* I guess they do this not to embarrass anybody? Because I can't find any news sources with the actual vote totals for these guys

And these were the voters:

PLAYERS

  1. Chipper Jones**
  2. Greg Maddux
  3. Jack Morris
  4. Ryne Sandberg
  5. Lee Smith
  6. Frank Thomas
  7. Alan Trammell

** He called in sick and was replaced by Darryl Hall, CEO Diamondbacks

EXECS

  1. Paul Beeston (Blue Jays, MLB)
  2. Theo Epstein (Red Sox, Cubs, MLB)
  3. Arte Moreno (Angels—owner)
  4. Kim Ng (Marlins)
  5. Dave St. Peter (Twins)
  6. Ken Williams (White Sox)

MEDIA/HISTORIANS

  1. Steve Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau)
  2. LaVelle Neal (Mpls. Star-Tribune)
  3. Susan Slusser (SF Chronicle)

As others have stated, this ballot, and this committee, could not have aided Fred McGriff's chances more. Braves and Blue Jays were well-repped, and all the other nominees didn't have the careers McGriff had, or they were PED-suspect. Or they were Curt Schilling.

Could there have been other candidates from this era? Of course. Dwight Evans or Lou Whitaker barely got a chance from the Baseball Writers Association of America (Dewey lasted three years, Lou one), and modern stats, particularly bWAR (67.2, 75.1 respectively), indicate they're worthy. Basically they were good at a lot of little stuff that was difficult to measure; and now we can measure it. Or believe we can measure it. It's right there in that number.

But let's talk about the ballot as constituted.

The bottom four (Belle, Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro) are all PED suspects, and the committee was full of players who have long denounced players who used PEDs, and apparently they haven't changed their minds. Goom-bye.

Murphy and Mattingly are interesting, similar cases. At different times, both were considered the best player of the '80s (Murphy was NL MVP in '82 and '83, Mattingly AL MVP in '85), but both got injured early in their careers. Neither made the World Series—and heartbreakingly so. Murphy was an Atlanta Brave until August 1990 when he was traded to the Phillies, and then the Braves went on a World Series run, appearing in '91, '92, '95, '96 and '99. His new team, the Phillies let him go in April '93 and then they went to the World Series. Meanwhile, Mattingly was Mr. Yankee during the Yankees longest Series drought since buying Babe Ruth. His first year was '82 and the Yanks went in '81. His last season was '95, and the Yankees went in '96, then '98 through '01. So it goes, as the man said. 

Both had better primes than McGriff, but he hung on longer.

  Murphy Mattingly McGriff
Black Ink (27) 31 23 9
Gray Ink (144) 147 111 105
HOF Measure (100) 116 134 100
bWAR 46.5 42.4 52.6
BBWAA HOF Best 23.2% 28.2% 39.8%

If you look at these numbers you wonder how Mattingly could be preferred to Murphy, but he's probably getting points for his managerial career, which—now that I look at it—is similarly heartbreaking. He managed the Dodgers to three straight postseason appearances, but after losing the 2015 NLDS to the eventual pennant-winning Mets, he was let go with a year left on his contract. The Dodgers went to the World Series two years later. Mattingly was immediately swooped up by the Marlins, and in 2020, as a wild card, they made the postseason for the first time since 2003. They parted ways after this season, and Mattingly was recently hired as a bench coach for the Blue Jays. One assumes Paul Beeston voted for him.

As for Schilling, he's got an 80.5 bWAR, the best strikeout-to-walk ratio for any pitcher with more than 3,000 Ks (3116/711), postseason performances that mere mortals only dream of, and a big fucking mouth. I still would've voted for him. But Joe Posnanski highlights the irony:

Schilling's seven votes is a rebuke, no question about it. Schilling had been yammering for a couple of years now that he didn't even WANT to get elected by the writers, that he would prefer to be judged by players and executives, you know, people who KNOW THE GAME.

So the irony must sting that he got WAY closer to being elected on the BBWAA ballot than he got on this veterans ballot. In fact, if he would have not spent his spare time joking about journalists getting murdered and asking people not to vote for him, he certainly WOULD have been elected by the writers.

Now, if this ballot is any indication, the players and executives and such seem to think he's a lot more trouble than he's worth.

Anyway, I'm glad McGriff is in. I always liked him. He was cool, had a cool nickname (The Crime Dog), and as a lean, mean, baseball machine he hit 493 career homers. Seven more and he would've made the Hall 10 years ago.

Posted at 07:55 AM on Thursday December 08, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday December 03, 2022

Babe Ruth's Last Hit

It began with this question from the daily SABR quiz: “Who was the first Major Leaguer to cross the plate more than 150 times in a single season in the Liveball Era?”

My first thought was Lou Gehrig. Then I went, “Wait, Liveball Era? Wouldn't that be 1920 on? So wouldn't it be Babe Ruth or Rogers Hornsby?”

You usually get two or three hints with the daily quiz, and this was the first one: “Carl Hubbell surrendered this slugger's first National League home run.”

So it couldn't be Hornsby. He got his first homer way before Hubbell showed up, right? (Right: Hornsby debuted in 1915, Hubbell in 1928.) And it couldn't be Ruth because .... Oh, right. Braves. So Ruth.

I knew the trajectory—Red Sox to Yankees to Braves—but always thought about it as Ruth's return to Boston, and familiar surroundings, rather than playing in the unfamiliar National League. Afterwards, I looked it up. Hubbell gave up Ruth's first NL homer on Opening Day. I also knew about the three homers he hit in one day. Weren't they his last three? (They were.) What I didn't know, or hadn't realized, was that it was all in a losing effort. Despite Ruth's three homers and 6 RBIs, the Braves lost to the Pirates 11-7. And he didn't even play the whole game. From the bottom of the 7th:

Joe Mowry replaces Babe Ruth playing RF batting 3rd

Was he sick? Hungover? That's what the modern legend suggests. I believe the John Goodman movie has him completely sowsed, while Robert W. Creamer's seminal bio suggests hungover. He was also suffering aches and pains. He'd had a bad cold in April and after Opening Day rarely played a full game. Plus he figured out he'd been rooked. The owner of the Braves had promised him stock options, and a percentage of the profits, but the team was a loser—there were no profits.

How bad of a loser? After Ruth's three-homer game on May 25, the team's record stood at 8-20. Duffy Lewis, who'd been Ruth's teammate on the Red Sox and was now the Braves' traveling secretary, suggested Ruth retire: Go out with a bang. But Ruth had promised ownership one full swing around the Majors, so he stuck around for three games vs. Cincinnati and two against Philadelphia. It wasn't good. He went hitless and the team was lifeless. By the time he announced his retirement in early June, the Braves were 9-27 and would finish the season with the worst record in baseball, 38-115, 61.5 games back of the first-place Cubs and 25 games back of the seventh-place Phillies. They're generally regarded as one of the worst teams in baseball history.

So it made sense for Ruth to get out while the getting was good. One wonders, in fact, if the losing wasn't just as much a reason to retire as the aches and pains. In his long career, he'd only played on two MLB teams with losing records: the 1919 Red Sox, who went 66-71, and the 1925 Yankees, who went 69-85. Maybe he just couldn't take it.

I have to think Ruth removed himself from that May 25 game, too. One, Ruth did what he wanted, and two, the game was tied. Why bench the only guy who's hitting? And who has a shot at a four-homer game?

Instead, Joe Mowry—who would only play three seasons in the Majors, retiring after '35—led off the 9th with a single, but three quick outs followed and the Braves were done.

So Ruth's last hit in the Majors was a home run. And not just any home run. From Creamer's book:

It was unbelievably long, completely over the roof of the double-decked stands in right field and out of th epark. Nobody had ever hit a ball over the roof in Forbes Field before. Gus Miller, the head usher, went to investigate and was told the ball landed on the roof of one house, bounced onto another and then into a lot, where a boy picked it up and ran off with it.* Miller measured the distance and said it was 600 feet. His measurement may have been imprecise, but it was still the longest home run ever hit in Pittsburgh.

*Don DeLillo alert

I'm sure there's some legend in that, but everyone agrees it was socked. Not bad for an old, hungover man.

Posted at 10:29 AM on Saturday December 03, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Wednesday November 23, 2022

That Problematic 2023 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

The last few years have been a slog—and not just because of Covid. Trump before that and family matters before Trump. I've felt stuck. Time kept not moving.

Except of course it kept moving. 

I think that's why, when I read Tyler Kepner's article on the new arrivals to the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, I was surprised that half these guys had retired long enough to be on the ballot. "Wait, didn't I just seeing Jayson Werth in the postseason? Wasn't Jacoby Ellsbury just stealing home?

No, Erik, that was 10 years ago.

Here's the overall ballot, including holdovers from previous years, as ranked by bWAR. It's not a list that's going to result in a lot of new members. The best players have some taint against them: PEDs (A-Rod, Manny), cheating scandals (Beltran), Coors Field (Helton). There are two .300/.400/.500 guys (Manny, Helton), two pitchers who threw perfect games (Buehrle, Cain), and two of the best defensive players to ever play their positions (Omar, Andruw), and none of them will make it. 

Player YOB '22 % bWAR Blk Ink Gray Ink HOF Msre Xtras
Alex Rodriguez 2 34.3% 117.6 68 214 390  3xMVP
Scott Rolen 6 63.2% 70.1 0 27 99 ROY 8xGG
Carlos Beltran 1   70.1 1 76 126 ROY
Manny Ramirez 7 28.9% 69.3 21 154 226 12xAS
Andruw Jones 6 41.4% 62.7 10 47 109 10xGG
Todd Helton 5 52.0% 61.8 16 143 175  
Gary Sheffield 9 40.6% 60.5 4 123 158 9xAS
Andy Pettitte 5 10.7% 60.2 7 103 128  
Bobby Abreu 4 8.6% 60.2 5 88 95  
Mark Buehrle 3 5.8% 59.1 12 116 52 PG
Jeff Kent 10 32.7% 55.4 0 71 123 MVP
Torii Hunter 3 5.3% 50.7 0 29 58 9xGG
Jimmy Rollins 2 9.4% 47.6 14 82 121 MVP
Omar Vizquel 6 23.9% 45.6 0 25 120 11xGG
John Lackey 1   37.3 8 82 48  
Jered Weaver 1   34.6 19 99 47  
Jacoby Ellsbury 1   31.2 7 47 36  
Jhonny Peralta 1   30.4 0 11 34  
Jayson Werth 1   29.2 2 36 19  
Matt Cain 1   29.1 3 81 26 PG
J.J. Hardy 1   28.1 0 5 18  
Billy Wagner 8 51.0% 27.7 0 31 107  
Mike Napoli 1   26.3 0 11 17  
Francisco Rodriguez 1   24.2 10 29 124  
R.A. Dickey 1   23.7 13 60 25 CY
Bronson Arroyo 1   23.4 6 63 15  
Andre Ethier 1   21.5 0 12 21  
Huston Street 1   14.5 0 12 57 ROY

YOB = Years on the Ballot
'22% = Their percentage for last year's vote: 75% or better and you're in
Blk Ink: The so-called “black ink” numbers, or how often do they lead the league in important stats: 27 is a HOFer for hitters, 40 for pitchers
Gray Ink: Top 10 in same: 144 for hitters, 185 for pitchers
Hall of Fame Measure: 100 is a HOFer

Does that just leave Scott Rolen, who got 63% last year, and has generally good numbers, good d, not a whiff of PEDs, and played a position, third base, that's underrepresented in the Hall? 

I could make arguments for others. I don't know if I'd vote for them but here are the arguments. 

  • A-Rod. I know, I know, but look at those numbers. He's top 10 all-time. Without PEDs he would've been ... top 25? Top 50? It's basically the Bonds/Clemens argument—they would've gone in anyway—but for some reason I have more sympathy for A-Rod.
  • Manny: .300/.400/.500, and the crazy joy of him.
  • Gary Sheffield. I almost feel like he should get the Jim Rice vote. No one wanted to see him at the plate. Like Rice, he was feared. Except Rice passes the black ink test (33) and Sheffield doesn't (4). 
  • Francisco Rodriguez. Fourth all-time in saves. Plus he made his name early as a Yankees killer during the 2002 postseason. For that, I'm forever grateful.
  • Omar. He deserves his own graf.

I should dig into WAR sometime because sometimes I don't quite get it. Omar Vizquel has the ninth-greatest defensive WAR of all time, 29.5, and a 32.9 offensive WAR, and you add them together and you get ... 45.6? So something else is done. Someday I'll look into it. 

But let's ignore that 45.6 for a second. By both advanced measures (dWAR) and traditonal ones (11 Gold Gloves), Omar is one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time. He was also a not-bad hitter: .272 lifetime batting average, 2,877 career hits, 44th all-time. Think of that: Only 43 players in MLB history had more hits than Omar. Plus he walked nearly as often as he struck out: 1028/1087. My point: This isn't Mark Belanger, a great defensive shortstop who couldn't hit. Omar could hit. Mostly singles, sure, but he could hit. And he was beautiful to watch. I know that's not supposed to count but what are we—animals? Let's count beauty. It doesn't come around often.

If I had a vote, I'd vote A-Rod, Rolen, Manny and Omar. That's not a bad class. But it'll either be nobody or Rolen. 

Posted at 08:13 AM on Wednesday November 23, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday November 17, 2022

Baseball Records, 2022 Update

This guy might do it.

I've been busy since the baseball season ended so I haven't had a chance to double-check the usual obscure stastistical stuff I've always liked. OK, some of it I already knew. Like this one: 

Did anyone hit. 350?

Nope. Jeff McNeil, Mets second baseman, hit .326. That was the best in the Majors. Best in the AL was Luis Arraez's .317. Which means for a full season, not shortened Covid ones, no one's hit .350 or better since 2010 (Josh Hamilton, .359). Again, this is unprecedented. See: “Where Have All the .350 Hitters Gone?” from 2019. Worse—sans Covid season—it's trending downward:

  • .346 in 2018 (Betts)
  • .335 in 2019 (T. Anderson)
  • .327 in 2021 (T. Turner)
  • .326 in 2022 (McNeil)

The new rules attempting to ban or at least corral defensive shifts look to alter this trajectory. We'll see.

How are we on the doubles, triples, homers question?

Here's the background on that. Only seven players in MLB history have ever led the league in all three extra-base categories—doubles, triples and homers—during their careers, and no one's done it since Johnny Mize in the 1940s. When I last checked in, after the 2020 season, these were the only active players who'd led the league in two of the three categories:

  • Albert Pujols (Doubles, Homers)
  • Miguel Cabrera (Doubles, Homers)
  • Nolan Arenado (Doubles, Homers)
  • Cesar Hernandez (Doubles, Triples) 

But all of the doubles/homers guys were aging and were never triples hitters to begin with. Arenado did hit seven in 2017, which was tied for 5th-best in the NL that year, but that was his high point. Last season he hit one triple, which is one more than either Pujols or Miggy hit. As for the little-considered Cesar Hernandez? Right, he isn't a homerun hitter. Guess how many bombs he managed with 600+ plate appearances in Washington? One.

OK, but do we have any additions?

Not because of 2022. The guys who led the two leagues in doubles (Freddie Freeman and Jose Ramirez) have led he league in doubles before, but that's it. The guys who led the leagues in triples (Gavin Lux and Brandon Nimmo in the NL, Amed Rosario in the AL) are all newbies, as is NL homerun leader Kyle Schwarber. Meanwhile, AL homerun leader Aaron Judge is a repeat homerun guy. He did it his 2017 rookie season, too.

That said, I didn't tabulate any of this after 2021 and that's where we got some movement. That season, Bryce Harper led the NL in doubles to go with his 2015 HR crown; and Whit Merrifield led the AL in doubles to go with his 2019 triples crown. 

So, removing Pujols, who famously and gloriously retired after 2022, this is our active chart:

  • Miguel Cabrera (Doubles, Homers)
  • Nolan Arenado (Doubles, Homers)
  • Bryce Harper (Doubles, Homers)
  • Cesar Hernandez (Doubles, Triples)
  • Whit Merrifield (Doubles, Triples)

None are likely to do it. The likeliest is probably Whit Merrifield. Sure, he only hit 11 homers last season, but five of those were after he was traded to Toronto—where he had 1/3 the at-bats. I'm not saying it's likely, I'm saying it's likelier than, say, Miggy or Arenado or even Bryce leading the league in triples. In my head, Bryce seems like a lean, speedy guy, but he only hit one triple last year, and his career high, 9, was in his rookie year in 2012. He hasn't hit more than three in a year since.

How about this? In the top 10 in each category in 2022, did any names appear more than once? And by top 10, we're actually talking top 11 (for doubles) and top 16 (for triples), because of the last-place tie. So 37 slots in all. Any repeats?

Yes, two. Paul Goldschmidt finished 10th in homeruns with 35 and tied for 10th in doubles with 41. And he already has a 2013 HR crown. But he only has 22 career triples, with a season high of five in 2018 and zero last year.

The other guy is a better bet: Jose Ramirez. He led the league in doubles, as I said, with 44, and tied for ninth in triples with five. He also hit 29 homers, and his career high is 39, and I could see him hitting more of those as he ages and thickens. But first he has to do the triples and time is ticking. He's 30. But at least he's well-represented in all three slots.

Maybe the active player with the best overall shot is Shohei Ohtani. He led the league in triples in 2021 and came close to also leading it in homers with 46. If he'd managed that, he would've been the first same-season HRs/Triples guy since Jim Rice in 1978, who was the first since both Mays and Mantle did it in '55. Nice company. Last season, Ohtani hit 34 homers and 30 doubles, and neither came close to leading the league, but they're both good, solid numbers, and you could see him building on them. He's already got the tough one—the triples. The bigger problem with him is the whole pitching side career, which, one imagines, cuts into his batting time. But if I had to bet, I'd bet on him.

Who has the longest postseason drought?

Not my Seattle Mariners.

Posted at 07:11 AM on Thursday November 17, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday November 06, 2022

Do Bullpens Make Baseball Boring? A Modest Proposal After Astros Win World Series

It's November 6 and Major League Baseball—the summer game—ended last night. And not because of some 9/11-like conflagration delaying games but by design. This was the plan. Let's play until nearly the second week of November and see how it all turns out. Somehow it all turned out. Global warming helped. Maybe that's the thinking in MLB front offices—if there's thinking in MLB front offices—that they can keep pushing the season later and later because, you know, the world is ending. I'm in New York City right now and it's been in the 60s and 70s all week. The low last night was 65. In New York. In November. You know darkest before dawn? This is nicest before doom.

The 2022 baseball season was won by the Houston Astros, the best team in the American League, who beat the Philadelphia Phillies, the sixth-best team in the National League, four games to two. Many of the games were routs. In Game 3, the Phillies hit homeruns at will and shut out the Astros to go up 2 games to 1. In Game 4, Cristian Javier and three Astros relievers no-hit the Phillies to tie the series. I half-expected the Phillies to up it to a perfect game but the rest played out inevitably. In Game 5, Astros went up 3-1, Phils got it close, 3-2, Astros bullpen shut them down. In Game 6, Phils went up 1-0 on a Kyle Schwarber bomb, Astros answered with a 3-run bomb from the no-longer somnabulent Yordan Alvarez (450 feet to dead center), they tacked on another, Astros bullpen shut them down. Game, set, match.

It was kind of boring, to be honest. Are bullpens becoming a problem? All these no-name, ungodly relievers in late innings shutting them down 1-2-3? Joe Posnanski is worried about it. He misses the drama of starting pitching. Your Bob Gibsons and Jack Morrises and Madison Baumgarners going 9. But what are you gonna do?

Here's my solution: play every day. Like you do in the regular season. No off days during the postseason. Or at least no off days during postseason series. You play 3-5 in a row or 4-7 in a row. Game 5 was in Philly on Thursday night? Play Friday in Houston for Game 6. No travel days. No off days. I think it solves a host of MLB's problems:

  • Dancing with those that brung you. You gotta use the whole team. You can't keep going to the same terminators over and over again. Or if you do, you tire them out. They're no longer terminators. 
  • Which means the regular season has more meaning. It's not a 162-game marathon to eliminate half the teams and then a sprint to the finish. The whole-team qualities that allowed you to succeed in the regular season will help you in the post, too. It will feel less like two different sports masquerading as one.
  • Without all the off-days, you might finish the season before the second week of November.

It feels like an easy solution to me so I doubt they'll do it.

Posted at 05:52 AM on Sunday November 06, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday October 29, 2022

How Long Since Your Team Went to the World Series? Part II

I should've posted this yesterday, before Game 1, but got too busy.

Ten years ago, Oct. 23, 2012, I wrote a post called “How Long Since Your Team Went to the World Series?” which is pretty much just that. Apparently I was curious if every AL team had been to the World Series since the Mariners came into existence. (They had.) I also included each team's World Series record in parentheses. And at the bottom of each list were hapless teams like the Cubs, Nationals and, yes, my Seattle Mariners.

And now after 10 years, what does the list look like?

Here's what's happened to the bottom five of the 2012 list:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

  • Minnesota Twins: 1991 (3-3)
  • Oakland A's: 1990 (9-6)
  • Kansas City Royals: 1985 (1-1)
  • Baltimore Orioles: 1983 (3-4)
  • Seattle Mariners: NEVER (est., 1977)

NATIONAL LEAGUE

  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 1988 (6-12)
  • Milwaukee Brewers: 1982 (0-1)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: 1979 (5-2)
  • Washington Nationals: NEVER (est., 1969)
  • Chicago Cubs: 1945 (2-8)

A lot more movement from the Senior Circuit. And this is how those lists look now: 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

  • Houston Astros: 2022 (1-3)
  • Tampa Bay Rays: 2020 (0-2)
  • Boston Red Sox: 2018 (9-5)
  • Cleveland Indians: 2016 (2-4)
  • Kansas City Royals: 2015 (2-2)
  • Detroit Tigers: 2012 (4-7)
  • Texas Rangers: 2011 (0-2)
  • New York Yankees: 2009 (27-13)
  • Chicago White Sox: 2005 (3-3)
  • Los Angeles Angels: 2002 (1-0)
  • Toronto Blue Jays: 1993 (2-0)
  • Minnesota Twins: 1991 (3-3)
  • Oakland A's: 1990 (9-6)
  • Baltimore Orioles: 1983 (3-4)
  • Seattle Mariners: NEVER (est., 1977)

Only five teams moved up: Indians and Rays went once, Royals and Red Sox twice, Astros four times. Effin' Astros. And the NL?

NATIONAL LEAGUE

  • Philadelphia Phillies: 2022 (2-5)
  • Atlanta Braves: 2021 (4-6)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 2020 (7-14)
  • Washington Nationals: 2019 (1-0)
  • Chicago Cubs: 2016 (3-8)
  • New York Mets: 2015 (2-3)
  • San Francisco Giants: 2014 (8-13)
  • St. Louis Cardinals: 2013 (11-8)
  • Colorado Rockies: 2007 (0-1)
  • Miami Marlins: 2003 (2-0)
  • Arizona Diamondbacks: 2001 (1-0)
  • San Diego Padres: 1998 (0-2)
  • Cincinnati Reds: 1990 (5-4)
  • Milwaukee Brewers: 1982 (0-1)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: 1979 (5-2)

The Cards and Giants, atop the previous list, immediately went again (2013, 2014), plus some middle-drought teams (Mets, Braves) went in 2015 and 2021, and—even better—the teams with the longest pennant draughts (Cubs, Nats), those most cursed of franchises, finally captured titles in 2016 and 2019. Plus the Dodgers, who were bottom five back then, went three times (2017, 2019, 2020) while the Phils this year. So eight in all.

One day, I hope to move my boys out of that bottom position. 

Posted at 10:11 AM on Saturday October 29, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday September 24, 2022

No. 700

I'd say touch 'em all, Albert, but I think he knows the routine by now.

Four times in Major League Baseball history someone's hit a 700th homerun—three in my lifetime:

  • Babe Ruth, July 13, 1934, vs. Detroit's Tommy Bridges, 3rd inning, one man on
  • Henry Aaron, July 21, 1973, vs. Philadelphia's Ken Brett, 3rd inning, one man on
  • Barry Bonds, Sept. 17, 2004, vs. San Diego's Jake Peavy, 3rd inning, leadoff
  • Albert Pujols, Sept. 23, 2022, vs. Los Angeles' Phil Bickford, 4th inning, two men on

Interesting it's only been two months, and two innings. Everyone was pretty consistent on the inning until Albert showed up. To be fair, he also hit one in the 3rd inning yesterday. He hit two. He's the first guy to hit two homers the day he hit his 700th.

I don't really remember Aaron's, I just remember the pursuit. I wrote about it back then for Kid's Life (5th grade version), which I wrote about here when Aaron died. I believe I was on the east coast when it happened, maybe Rehoboth Beach, Del. That was the summer we spent about two months on the east coast. I might not even have seen the newspaper. We saw the newspapers less when we traveled, though I would've gravitated toward the sports section immediately if I had. But I might've missed that day.

Bonds' pursuit just filled me with dread. It felt inevitable and wrong and I hated every second of it. It felt like a crime. It still does.

As for Uncle Albert? Just a few months ago, for the Opening Day slideshow of active leaders, I wrote: “Albert's No. 1 [in active homers] with 679. Does he have 21 more in him? Last year, split between So Cal teams, he hit 17.” That was all I wrote because I had no idea. If I'd had to put money on it, I would've bet no. But he's had a helluva farewell season back in St. Louis. The Cards are smart. They're using him judiciously, most often against lefties, whom he's crushing: .355/.405/.764. Against righties it's tougher: .209/.297/.384. Bickford, though, is a rightie. No. 699 was off a lefty, Andrew Heaney, who ran into trouble in the 4th. Down 2-0, he got two outs but let two men on (walk, single), and I guess Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts didn't want to risk the matchup with Albert again. Which is smart. But it didn't matter. Boom. Cards take a 5-zip lead, all on Albert's back, and win it 11-0.

Was it too early? It's the wrong question, a spoiled question, but I'll ask it anyway. Not sure where the drama is now. He's fourth all-time in homers (has been for a few weeks since he passed A-Rod at 696) but he's not passing Ruth. Not in homeruns anyway. But RBIs? He's just six behind Ruth, 2208 vs. 2214, for second there, to Aaron, who's out of reach.

700 is a magic number, only slightly tarred by Bonds and Pat Robertson. Enjoy it. We won't see its like again for decades.

Posted at 10:52 AM on Saturday September 24, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Tuesday August 30, 2022

Judge, Ruthian in His Solitude, Hits No. 50

I like the pitcher looking straight up. Nope, not there, kid.

Aaron Judge hit his 50th homerun in a 4-3 loss to the Angels in Anaheim last night.

Here's a breakdown of 50-homerun seasons by decade. See if you can spot the anomaly.

YRS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
20s Ruth Ruth Ruth Ruth                
30s Wilson Foxx Grnbrg Foxx                
40s Kiner Mize Kiner                  
50s Mays Mantle                    
60s Maris Mantle Mays                  
70s Foster                      
80s                        
90s Fielder Belle Mac Andrsn Mac Jr. Mac Sosa Jr. Vghn Mac Sosa
00s Sosa Bonds Sosa Gnzalz A-Rod A-Rod Thme Jnes Hwrd Ortiz A-Rod Flder
10s Bautsta Davis Stnton Judge Alnso              
20s Judge                      

Yeah. You could say it began with Fielder (Cecil) and it ended with Fielder (Prince).

I grew up in the '70s, when 50-homerun seasons were exceedingly rare-to-nonexistent. Harmon Killebrew always seemed to hit 49, and he led the league. Willie Mays' back in '65 was the last, and no one would do it again until George Foster in the expansion year of '77. Then nothing until 1990. And then everything. 

Related: Last night I went to Elliott Bay Books to see SABR's Mark Armour talk about his book, “Intentional Balk: Baseball's Thin line Between Innovation and Cheating,” with Seattle sportswriter Art Thiel. It was a small, nerdy crowd so I fit right in. My main takeaways: Everyone is still angrier at the 2017 Houston Astros than I am; many are less angry about the steroid era than I am; and the problem is still one of regulation. And the problem with that is that Major League Baseball doesn't really have an independent regulatory body. They have a commissioner, who is hired by and subservient to the owners. At some point during the evening I had this epiphany: Baseball will condone, or at least ignore, cheating as long as it's good for business (McGwire and Sosa in '98). Baseball will crack down on it if it's bad for business (spider-tack in '21) or if it becomes obvious or problematic (Barry Bonds in '01 and '07). The above chart is why the steroid era is still a scandal to me: the stain it left on the record books can't be washed away. It can't even be parsed.

That chart also underlines how, for much of baseball history, hitting 50 was a pairs thing. It was rarely just one guy. Both Foxx and Hank Greenberg did it in 1938, then nothing until 1947 when Johnny Mize and Ralph Kiner turned 50s. Mays and Mantle went 50 in back-to-back years in the mid-50s, and both Mantle and Maris threatened 60 in '61. In the steroid era it was McGwire and Sosa trading leads and mock-punches to the stomach. Even in the post-steroid era (if we're in that), Stanton and Judge sent them soaring together (in opposite leagues) in 2017.

When wasn't it two guys? Foxx in '32 was by himself: 58 to Ruth's 41. Ditto Kiner in '49: 54 to 43 for Ted Williams. George Foster hit 52 when the next best was Jeff Burroughs' 41. The greatest gap, of course, is 1920 when Babe Ruth remade baseball. First place, Babe Ruth: 54. Second place, George Sisler: 19.

This is another single-guy year: second to Judge's 50, at the moment, is Kyle Schwarber's 36. Judge is all alone up there. He's Ruthian in his solitude. The talk is whether he can beat Maris' record, as if it were still the record, or New York talks about whether he can beat Maris' Yankee record. But there's another big deal here. Judge might be the first guy since Ruth to hit 60 when no one else in Major League Baseball hits 50. 

Posted at 07:44 AM on Tuesday August 30, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday August 08, 2022

Vin Scully (1927-2022)

I had a bad reaction to the shingles vaccine last Tuesday night—fever, literal teeth-chattering shakes—and spent much of Wednesday recovering in bed, but it was a good-news day so that helped. Alex Jones was getting his ass handed to him in a Texas courtroom for truly abominable behavior toward the Sandy Hook families; the Yankees and Gerrit Cole had their asses handed to them by the Seattle Mariners in a getaway game in the Bronx, 7-3; and Vin Scully died.

Obviously Vin Scully dying isn't good news, but it did mean I got to sit in bed and listen to him broadcast baseball games. Everyone was posting their favorite clips: the final inning of Sandy Koufax's perfect game; Hank Aaron's 715th; Game 6 of the '86 World Series; and Kirk Gibson's “Natural” moment off of Dennis Eckersley. A Twins fan posted Vin's radio call from the final at-bat of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, and wrote, “Saddened by the passing of Vin Scully ... he was the master of describing the moment & then letting it breathe,” and I responded, “'Letting it breathe' is exactly right. He had all the right words, and then he stopped talking so we could bask in the moment, and then he had all the right words again.” 

His death severed a rather remarkable connection. One of the first games he broadcast for the Dodgers, when he was a mere stripling of 23 in 1950, was an exhibition game against the Philadelphia A's, managed, in his final year, by Connie Mack, who had been born in 1862, just after the Battle of Fredericksburg. So just those two men connected the U.S. Civil War to the present. Remarkable. If you want to put it in baseball terms: Connie Mack began playing professional baseball in 1886, and managed professional baseball from 1894 to 1950, at which point, at that exhibition game, you can imagine him tagging off to Vin Scully, who broadcast professional baseball games another 66 years. So it's 1886 to 2016. That's the entirety of the sport, really. That's 130 years of baseball between two men.

I don't know if I had a favorite Vin Scully call—maybe Aaron's 715th—but I do love this quote of his that I read in Joe Posnanski's encomium. Joe wrote that we loved Vin for what he said and what he didn't say (letting it breathe), and as examples of the former he includes these lines:

  • “Bob Gibson pitches like he's double-parked.”
  • “Football is to baseball like blackjack is to bridge. One is the quick jolt; the other the deliberate, slow-paced game of skill.”

But the line I love is actually earlier, when Vin Scully is comparing Willie Mays and Hank Aaron:

“Now Willie ran with his hat flying off and joy just coming off him like sparks. But Henry, there was something regal about Henry, opposite of Willie, who was a sandlot kid playing with all of us. And, understand Willie did play stickball in the streets of New York, as I did when I was a kid. Henry was just a little bit apart. He was just a regal player from the first time I saw him.”

I like all that but I just love “joy just coming off him like sparks.” How beautiful is that? 

Posted at 01:11 PM on Monday August 08, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Tuesday July 26, 2022

John Jordan

I've been so excited about Twins making the Hall I neglected to talk about Buck O'Neil. Well, why say anything when you've got Joe Posnanski around. As I mentioned yesterday on Twitter, after posting his latest, “One day Joe will write an article about Buck O'Neil that I'll be able to read without tears welling up in my eyes. But not today.” Here's a sample.


 Lynn Novick met Buck O'Neil shortly after she started at Florentine Films, working with Ken Burns on “The Civil War” documentary. Ken and Lynn's next project was to tell a different kind of baseball story — one that would show how the game's history and American history intertwine and interweave and mirror each other. This meant telling the story of the Negro leagues as it had never been told before.

But how? Many of the greatest Negro leaguers — Paige, Gibson, Charleston, Cool Papa — were gone. ... Someone told Lynn that she might want to talk with Buck O'Neil. She'd never heard of Buck, but she called, and he seemed amenable, so she showed up at his door in Kansas City with a camera crew behind her. She had absolutely no expectations; she just hoped that he would have some interesting memories.

And what followed was an interview unlike any she has had in her entire life.

“It must have been hard playing in the Negro leagues,” she said to him at one point.

He looked at her with amusement.

“No, it wasn't hard,” he said. “It was wonderful.”

It was wonderful. There was Buck O'Neil in three words. Lynn looked at him in astonishment. Buck was the grandson of enslaved people. He was not allowed to attend Sarasota High School. He was never given a chance to see if he was good enough to play in the major leagues — and he was good enough. He was never allowed to manage in the major leagues — and I have no doubt he would have been an extraordinary manager. He drank from separate water fountains and was turned away from white hotels and was forced to eat in the kitchens of restaurants that would even allow him in. He saw crosses burned and children spit at and once walked into a crowd of white sheets when he confused a ballpark with a KKK rally.

“It was wonderful,” he said.

And he talked about all the wonderful things, the wonderful players, the wonderful games. He told her stories, incredible stories, about Satchel Paige, about Josh Gibson, about Cool Papa Bell. He told her about walking into the Streets Hotel in Kansas City or the Evans Hotel in Chicago or the Woodside Hotel in New York and being treated like a star, and running into Cab Calloway or Count Basie or Ella Fitzgerald. ...

When “Baseball” came out, it had any number of eloquent characters, historians, musicians, some of the best ballplayers who ever lived. But all of them were supporting characters to John Jordan “Buck” O'Neil, who in his own distinctive way captured not only the spirit of the Negro leagues, but of baseball, too.

After it came out, Buck's life would change. For years, he had been largely ignored — people had learned that the story of African-American baseball had begun when Jackie Robinson crossed the line, and they weren't interested in hearing any more. But after “Baseball,” people began listening to him. People began asking him to tell more stories. He wrote a book. He appeared on “Letterman.” He traveled the country.

Lynn Novick was with us in Cooperstown this weekend.

So was her son. His name is John Jordan.

Posted at 07:34 AM on Tuesday July 26, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday July 25, 2022

Now We Are Six: Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat Inducted Into Baseball Hall of Fame

    

The Minnesota Twins increased its Hall of Fame count by 50% yesterday. We went in with four and came out with six.

Chronologically, it goes like this:

  • 1984: Harmon Killebrew (fourth ballot)
  • 1991: Rod Carew (first ballot)
  • 2001: Kirby Puckett (first ballot)
  • 2011: Bert Blyleven (14th ballot)
  • July 24, 2022: Jim Kaat (Veteran’s Committee)
  • July 24, 2022: Tony Oliva (Veteran’s Committee)

Five of those guys were playing on the 1969-71 team I grew up on. I knew not what I had.

Actually, I kind of did. I knew it was special. And I remember when it went away.

It’s interesting to see how we lost each of them. In mid-August 1973 the Twins placed Jim Kaat on waivers, where he was selected by the Chicago White Sox, for whom, over the next two full seasons he went 21-13 and 20-14, with ERAs around 3.00; he pitched for 10 more years. We released Harmon Killebrew in January 1975 and a week later he signed with the Kansas City Royals for his final season. In June 1976, we traded Bert Blyleven (and shortstop Danny Thompson) to Texas for four guys (Roy Smalley, Mike Cubbage, Bill Singer, Jim Gideon), plus $250k, and he pitched for another, what, 15 years? Including four more with the Twins: 1985-88. His last season was 1992. Wow. Rod Carew became our 1970s superstar, but then owner Calvin Griffith opened his piehole at a Lions Club gathering in the fall of 1978, saying he moved the team from D.C. to Minnesota “when we found out you only had 15,000 blacks here.” Carew asked to make that number 14,999. In January 1979 we traded him to California for Dave Engle, Paul Hartzell, Brad Havens and Kenny Landreaux. He would play another seven seasons and retire with a .328 lifetime batting average.

Oliva never left. He retired after the ’76 season due to knee injuries but stayed with the organization in other roles. As the Star-Tribune mentioned today, he’s a 61-year employee.

I have to say, the new plaques aren’t bad. OK, so maybe Oliva's eyebrows are too thick, while Kaat looks more combative and chin-heavy than he should. He could pass for Thanos' kid brother here. Yet, I don't know, something in the eyes is exactly right. Bronze relief is always an iffy proposition. It’s not a medium that captures likenesses well. Of our six, the Killebrew one is probably best, Carew the worst. Never show them smiling would be my motto. Teeth don’t work well in bronze.

I still find it fascinatingly wrong that the best player on that team, by career bWAR, is Bert Blyleven, and it’s not even close. By career bWAR, Blyleven is the 38th greatest player in baseball history, pitcher or player, sandwiched between Roberto Clemente and Cap Anson, and ahead of, among others, Bob Gibson, George Brett and Ken Griffey Jr. Either we missed a lot or bWAR is.

Here’s how our guys do by other HOF measures. You get points for black ink when you lead the league in a noteworthy category, gray ink when you’re in the top 10.

PLAYER WAR BLACK INK GRAY INK HOF MONITOR
Harmon Killebrew 60.3 48 193 178
Rod Carew 81.2 42 148 243
Kirby Puckett 51.2 22 122 160
Bert Blyleven 94.5 16 237 121
Jim Kaat 50.5 16 125 130
Tony Oliva 43.0 41 146 114
AVG. HOF player n/a 27 144 100
AVG. HOF pitcher n/a 40 185 100

Our two pitchers were guys that lasted, our two most recent position players, Puckett and Oliva, had short careers. They were comets across the sky—Oliva in particular. In a career shortened by knee injuries, he led the league in hits five times, doubles four times, batting average three times, slugging percentage once, total bases once, runs scored once. He dominated American League pitchers in a pitchers' era.

By all those measures, he's a Hall of Famer. Glad he finally got his due. Glad to see he is where he should be.

May I present the latest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Posted at 08:38 AM on Monday July 25, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
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