Thursday May 25, 2023
Vida Blue (1949-2023)
Charlie Finley was an all-world huckster who had some fun ideas about shaking up the staid old game: those garish, glorious, green-and-gold A's unis; paying his players to grow long hair and facial hair during the hippy-ish early 1970s; manufacturing Old Timey nicknames. All of that was fun. He had shitty ideas, too: orange baseballs, the DH, but I think the worst of them relates to that third fun idea. He'd done well enough with Jim “Catfish” Hunter and John “Blue Moon” Odom, both great, both pure grift, but then he tried to impose the nickname “True” on one of his other young pitchers, and that pitcher balked at the idea. As he should have. Because he already had one of the most perfect names in baseball history. To be honest, I worry a little about Charlie Finley—that when presented with this almost perfect baseball name, nearly a double unique, he didn't see it. He wanted to fuck it up with a false, punny “True.” He didn't see the perfection that was already there in Vida Blue.
For the first half of 1971, when he was just 21 years old, Vida Blue was nearly perfection. He may have been the first superstar to emerge once I became a fan. Everyone else was already there when I showed up: Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank and Brooks Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, even the fairly youthful Johnny Bench. But Vida Blue was not there and then, in the spring and summer of 1971, he was everywhere. He was an event. He was such an event they held a Vida Blue Day for him ... in Minnesota. Twins owner Calvin Griffith was a sad, slow huckster compared to Charlie Finley, but he knew what people wanted, and he knew in the summer of 1971 they wanted Vida Blue. And so for a twi-night doubleheader, the Twins honored the opposing pitcher. In my memory, if you wore a piece of blue clothing you got in for half price, but that doesn't make much sense. Calvin wouldn't take money from Calvin's coffers. No, what you got, if you wore anything blue—and the Twins' promo ad mentioned any apparel, including “suits, dresses, hot pants...” which gives you a sense of the divide in America at the time, when men still wore suits to ballgames while women wore hot pants—what you got, from Calvin on Vida Blue Day at Met Stadium, was a commemorative button, “an attractive blue button,” the ad said, with the following verse:
Rose are red
My clothes were blue
When I was there
To see Vida Blue
Even at age 8, I was like “That's not a rhyme. Blue and blue? That's just the same word.” But we went, wore blue (without trying), got one of those buttons, and saw the Twins win both games against the eventual division winners. Actually, no, we didn't see the victories. I don't know why I still remember this but I do. We arrived late to the first game, missing out on Harmon Killebrew's pinch-hit grand slam in the Twins 9-4 victory, then we left before the end of the second game (“We gotta beat the traffic!” --Frank Costanza and my father), so missed out on George Mitterwald's walk-off homerun against Vida Blue with two outs in the bottom of the 9th as the Twins won 2-1. Two amazing games and we missed out on both big blows. This is why, for the longest time after I became an adult, I never left a game early.
In that second game, Twins pitcher Hal Haydel got the W for his 9th-inning relief work (one of six Ws in his career), while Vida got the L for the game and went a mere 23-7 on the season. He would wind up 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA, 301 strikeouts to 88 walks in 312 innings pitched, and he would win the Cy Young and the MVP as a 21/22 year old. But the real story was his first half when he went 17-3 with a 1.42 ERA, 17 complete games and six shutouts. Again, that's the first half of the season. He seemed on pace to win 30. He seemed perfection. I'm looking at his game logs for the season and he actually started out poorly, on April 5, giving up 4 runs, 1 earned, in 1 2/3 innings against the lowly Washington Senators. Then he pitched a six-inning rain-shortened shutout against the Royals, striking out 13(!); pitched a complete game shutout of the Brewers; pitched a complete game victory against the ChiSox, and kept going. By the end of May he'd won 10 games (10!), and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. By the end of August, he was on the cover of Time magazine under the heading “New Zip in the Old Game.”
In the second half, sure, not quite perfection. His ERA rose by a run, to 2.40, and he went 7-5, but there were games that should've been wins. On July 9 against the Angels, he pitched 11 shutout innings, struck out 17 and walked nobody but got the ND. (The A's won it 1-0 in the bottom of the 20th.) Two weeks later, he again went 11, striking out 11 and walking zilch as the A's won it in the bottom of the 12th. But yes, he must've been tiring. His last shutout was August 7 against the ChiSox, his 20th win. In the second half, he was very, very good, but not the Vida Blue of the first half. He was not a comet. But he was beautiful to watch.
Same for the rest of his career. After a season for the ages, he wanted a raise, Finley was penurious, Vida held out. A deal was finally struck ($14.7k —> $63k), but late, so Vida didn't make his first start until the end of May, and though he had a not-bad 2.80 ERA he went 6-10. The next year he won 20, then 17, then 22, as the A's became the only non-Yankees team to win three World Series in a row. In '76 Vida had an ERA of 2.35 and finished sixth in the Cy Young balloting, and was traded midseason to the New York Yankees. Except, whoops, no, another white man, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, in perpetual battle with Finley, nullified the deal “in the best interests of baseball.” Back you go. He finally got away from Finley in '78, across the Bay to San Francisco, and became the first pitcher to start for both leagues in the All-Star Game. He lasted until the mid-1980s. Along the way there were drug problems. His career numbers are similar to Catfish Hunter's, but Catfish's rep was different, and Catfish came on the Hall of Fame ballot at the right time, so he got in. Blue, not. His rep was of not quite living up to the promise of that first half of 1971. But how could he? Comets streak across the sky, then disappear from view.
How much does Vida Blue mean to me? A kid who grew up rooting for another team in another state? One evening last November, after I'd returned home from New York City sick with COVID, I was involved in the usual late-night web searching, checking out this and that, and I wound up buying a comfort item for myself, something that just made me feel good. It was that August 1971 Time magazine with Vida Blue on the cover. It's been on my bookshelf ever since. It never doesn't make me smile.
Thursday March 30, 2023
Opening Day 2023: Your Active Leaders
SLIDESHOW: Last time I did one of these, the Seattle Mariners had the longest playoff drought in baseball and Albert Pujols led half of all active batting categories. Now the longest drought is a tie between the Tigers and the Angels (neither's been since 2014), while the batting categories are led by a Tiger and an Angel—Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. On the pitching side, the usual suspects keep turning up: Verlander, Kershaw, Scherzer, Greinke. So who's retired now? A tough call. Most guys don't get the victory laps Albert did. I assume we've seen the last of Robinson Cano, Justin Upton, Alcides Escobar, Dee Strange-Gordon and Cole Hamels, but, as of now, they assume otherwise. And their assumption trumps mine.
BATTING AVERAGE: This has been Miggy's since 2015 when he was sporting a .320 career mark. He's inevitably fallen off—a cumulative .262 during the last six years—yet no one's taken the mantle. For a time, it looked like Jose Altuve might but he stumbled, too, at a much earlier age. That said, they're still #s 1 and 2 on this hit parade (.308 and .307), while the only other actives above .300 are Mike Trout and Trea Turner (.303, .302). Reminder: In 2021 Miggy's .313 mark was the lowest active batting mark ever, and obviously we keep breaking that record. Feels like banning the shift will get those numbers up again. Hell, someone might actually hit .350.
ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: If this is Trout's last year as the active OBP leader, I'm assuming his usurper won't be approaching from behind. After a lax (for him) .369 in 2022, Trout currently has a .414 career mark, followed by Joey Votto (.412) and Aaron Judge (.394). But the usurper is already ahead of him: Juan Soto at .424. But it takes 3,000 career plate appearances to qualify and Soto has a magical 333 to go. One assumes he'll get there by mid-summer.
SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Could Trout get usurped here, too? He's long been the leader, with no one close, but last season Aaron Judge got his qualifying 3,000 PAs. And then his universe-leading .686 mark upped his career mark from .554 to .583—spitting distance to Trout's .587. So Judge could take over. There's also another Juan Soto situation but not with Juan Soto. The up-and-comer is Yordan Alvarez, whose career mark is .590, but he's only halfway to qualifying. That'll be a few years yet. BTW, Trout's SLG is 11th all-time, Judge's 13th, and that includes recently added Negro League stars Mule Suttles, Turkey Stearnes and Oscar Charleston.
OPS: Four of the top 5 are red caps: Trout, Angels (1.001), Votto, Reds (.925), Goldschmidt, Cards (.917) and Bryce Harper, Phillies (.913). The only non-red cap is Aaron Judge, Yankees (.976), at No. 2. Juan Soto, a current brown cap, and with a .950 mark, will come in third when he qualifies. And yes, Trout is way up there, alone. It's the old Prince/Sinead song. Nothing compares to him.
GAMES: Amid the fun of Albert's final season, including becoming just the fourth man in baseball history to hit 700 homers, Albert's games-played milestone went virtually unmentioned. On June 4, he joined Rose, Yaz, Henry, Rickey, Ty, Eddie, Stan, Willie and Cal as the only players in MLB history to play in 3,000 games. He wound up fifth all-time at 3,080. The active torch has now been passed to Miggy at 2,699 games, and if you can name the next four in order, kudos. They are: Nellie Cruz, Joey Votto, Elvis Andrus and Evan Longoria. It's Elvis in the building that's surprising to me. I still think of him as a kid.
HITS: Last April 23, Miguel Cabrera became the 33rd player to reach 3,000 hits, and it looks like we won't get another for a while. Assuming Cano is done, the next active leaders are Joey Votto (2093, 38 years old), Nellie Cruz (2018, 41), Elvis Andrus (1997, 33), and Andrew McCutchen (1948, 35). Then it gets a little interesting, two 32 year-olds still at the top of their game: Jose Altuve (1935) and Freddie Freeman (1903). For a time, Altuve seemed particularly likely, but the shift and maybe the trash-can scandal haven't been kind. He bounced back last year, hitting .300, but still managed only 158 hits. Freddie's just gotten better and led the Majors last year with 199 hits. Would be an interesting bet between the two. I might still go Altuve, to be honest.
DOUBLES: Albert retired fifth all-time (686), Miggy stands at 14th all-time (607), and then the active gap again: Joey (453), Evan (422), and Freddie (414). Last season, Freeman led the Majors with 47, as he'd done in 2020 (23, Covid) and 2018 (44). He's one of the few guys that thrived in the shift era. Will be interesting to see how he does post-shift. One assumes better.
TRIPLES: The lowest active leader in triples during the 20th century was a tie between George Brett at the start of the '87 season (when he took the mantle from a retiring Pete Rose) and Paul Molitor in '98 (when Brett Butler retired). Both men had 114 triples. That was the lowest. Those were the days. In recent years, the active triples leader has been Ichiro (96), then Dexter Fowler (82), and now ... Charlie Blackmon with 58. Yeah, Blackmon. I wouldn't have gotten him, either.
HOMERUNS: Who's the next to 500? Miggy did it last (08/21), Ortiz before him (09/15) and Pujols before that (04/14). I'm rooting for Nellie Cruz (459) but does he have 41 more in him? He only hit 10 last year. There's Giancarlo, 32 years old, and at 378, but one wonders how much he'll play if he keeps hitting near .200. Trout, 32 and 350, will do it barring career-ending injuries. Nah to Votto (342), Longoria (331), and Goldschmidt (315). BTW, if you're wondering where Aaron Judge's name is, he's still a ways down. Despite his monster seasons, he only has 220 career. George Springer and Eugenio Suarez actually have more HRs than him.
RBIs: Albert retired No. 2 on the all-time list (2218), active leader Miggy is currently 14th (1847), and then there's a bit of a gap. Next is Nellie Cruz, tied for 115th, with 1302. Then it's Longoria (198th, 1131), Votto (212th, 1106), Goldschmidt and Freeman (261st/262nd, 1042/41). Where have all the RBI men gone? Most are below 1,000.
RUNS: Same deal, with less of a gap. Miggy at 1530, then Votto (1145), McCutchen (1118), Freeman (1086). Freddie keeps showing up, doesn't he? I never thought of him as a Hall of Famer but I'm beginning to think of him as a Hall of Famer. Same trajectory I had with Adrian Beltre.
BASES ON BALLS: Can anyone name the top 5 actives? It goes Votto (1338), Miggy (1227), Carlos Santana (1148), Andrew McCutchen (983), Mike Trout (919). OK, I guess it's mostly Santana that's the surprise. Santana has almost as many BBs as Miggy, with about 4,000 fewer plate appearances. Career, he has almost as many BBs as Ks—1148 vs. 1246—a rarity these days. Votto, meanwhile, is tied for 36th all-time with A-Rod.
STRIKEOUTS: Last season, Miggy became just the seventh player in MLB history to reach 2,000 Ks. Who will be eighth? If Justin Upton catches on with anyone, he's not a bad guess—he's 29 shy, and last season he struck out 23 times in just 17 games with Seattle. But will a team take a chance on a .100/.200/.200 guy? Then there's Nellie Cruz. He's at 1870. Giancarlo Stanton seems as good a bet as any. He's 33 and has 1696 career Ks. Basically he strikes out every three at-bats. Oddly, he's never led the league in the category. Or maybe not oddly: Two other 2,000-ers, Miggy and A-Rod, never led the league in the category, either.
STOLEN BASES: I'm assuming Dee Strange-Gordon (336 career SBs) is done, which means the active leader is Elvis Andrus (335). Then it goes Billy Hamilton (324), Starling Marte (314), and Jose Altuve (279). The most SBs among 20somethings? Trea Turner, 29, with 230. Turner is also near the top in SB% with 84.5%, but the active leader in that category is the oft-injured Byron Buxton with a stellar 88.5%. May the bigger bases and throw-over limits restart our Brockian engines.
HIT BY PITCH: Turns out the area where Anthony Rizzo excels is not in hitting but in getting hit. He's never led the league in any positive offensive category but he's led the Majors in HBPs three times. His 201 careers dings are ninth all-time, ahead of Frank Robinson (198), A-Rod (176) and Jeter (170)—not to mention Willie Mays (45), Babe Ruth (43) and Jackie Robinson (72). And teams were trying for Jackie. Second among actives is Starling Marte with 146. What's the all-time record? Hughie Jennings with 287. Rizzo's got a shot.
GROUNDED INTO DOUBLE PLAYS: We lost the all-time leader when Albert retired last season (w/426 two-fers) so I guess we'll have to settle for No. 2 all-time, Miggy, with 353. Tail-end of last season, he surpassed the previous champ, Cal Ripken Jr., who ended his career with 350. No. 2 on the active list? Evan Longoria, way down there, with 198. Piker.
DEFENSIVE WAR: Andrelton Simmons is still way out in front with 28.5, 12th all-time, followed by Nolan Arenado (18.8), Kevin Kiermaier (17.7), my man Lorenzo Cain (16.8) and Cain's former teammate Salvador Perez (15.3). Surprises, to me, among the top actives: Nick Ahmed (12.0), 11th; Trevor Story (11.6), 12th; and Martin Maldonado (10.3), 17th.
WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: Mike Trout, at 30, is already the 37th greatest player in MLB history by bWAR standards. He's at 82.4, ahead of Rod Carew, Pete Rose, Joe DiMaggio, Brooks Robinson and Johnny Bench. The most interesting guys on the active list, to me, are the ones in the 50s: Paul Goldschmidt, 58.5 (at age 34), Mookie Betts, 56.4 (age 29), Nolan Arenado, 52.2 (31) and Manny Machado, 52.0 (29). Who's a Hall of Famer among those guys? We'll see what the next seasons bring.
WINS: Last season, Justin Verlander, who had 226 career wins and had won exactly one game over the previous two seasons, and was 39 years old, loudly promised to become the 25th man in baseball history to win 300 games. I kind of shrugged but I guess never doubt the man who won the Kate Upton sweepstakes. He promptly went out and led the league with 18 wins. If 300 is still a ways away, he certainly looks positioned to become the first 250-game winner since C.C. Sabathia in 2019. The rest of the actives list goes: Zack Greinke (223), Max Scherzer (201), Clayton Kershaw (197). A lot of high-value Scrabble tiles in those names.
ERA: I like looking at the 24 photos at the top of the career Baseball Reference ERA page. It's just a lot of old-timey deadball-era white guys along with Mariano Rivera at No. 13. I think Clayton Kershaw made this wall of fame when he got his career mark down to 2.36 in 2017, good enough for No. 24 all-time, but now it's back up to 2.48—which is still about as rarefied as they come. No full-time starter has finished his career with a sub 2.50 ERA since maybe Walter Johnson. Right on Kershaw's tail is Jacob DeGrom at 2.52. Then it's Chris Sale at 3.03, Max Scherzer at 3.11, Gerrit Cole at 3.23.
STRIKEOUTS: For a long time, the 3,000-strikeout club consisted of one man: Walter Johnson. Then Bob Gibson joined in 1974. Then Gaylord Perry and we were off to the races. It's still a fairly exclusive club, just 19 members, with the newbies being Justin Verlander (joined Sept. 2019) and Max Scherzer (joined Sept. 2021). Verlander was our active leader in 2021, Scherzer last year, and now it's Verlander again. Will the exclusive club soon get company? Zack Greinke is 118 just away, Kershaw 193 away.
BASES ON BALLS: The list of pitchers with more than 3,000 career strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 careers walks used to be pretty short: just Ferguson Jenkins. This century, Greg Maddux joined him—barely (999 walks). Then Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez, comfortably (711, 760). A couple of active pitchers have a good shot, too. Both Verlander and Scherzer are north of 3k, and while Verlander is the active leader in walks, it's just 880, while Scherzer is way back there at 701. What to make of all this? Hitters strike out way more and walk way less. For the entire 20th century, the only seasons where the league leader in walks didn't have triple digits were work-stoppage years: 1981 and 1994. Now that doesn't happen. No one's thrown triple digits in BBs since 2012.
WHIP: The all-time list has an interesting mix of modern and dead-ball. It goes Addie Joss (.967), Jacob deGrom (.998), Big Ed Walsh (.999), Mariano Rivera (1.00), Clayton Kershaw (1.00), Chris Sale (1.04), John Ward (1.04), Pedro Martinez (1.05), Christy Mathewson (1.06) and Trevor Hoffman (1.06). What's missing? Anyone who pitched between 1918 (the year after Walsh retired) and 1991 (the year before Pedro's debut). A lot of great pitchers in that mix. None of them here. We don't get a midcentury guy until Juan Marichal with a 1.10 mark, good for 24th all-time.
COMPLETE GAMES: The last pitcher with 400+ career complete games was Grover Cleveland Alexander (retired: 1930), and the last with 300+ was Gaylord Perry (1983). No one's been above 200 since Nolan Ryan retired in 1993, nor above 150 since Jack Morris retired in 1994. The last 100+ guy was Randy Johnson (2009), and the last 50+ was Roy Halladay. We'll never see that like again. The current leader is Adam Wainwright (28), followed by Justin Verlander (26) and Clayton Kershaw (25). The good news for CG fans is we actually had a league leader with +5 for the first time since 2016: the Marlins' Sandy Alcantara completed twice as many games (6) as his nearest rival (Framber Valdez, 3).
INNINGS PITCHED: Two active pitchers have 3,000+ career—Greinke at 3247 and Verlander at 3163—which is good for 101st and 116th all-time. So it seems this category is similar to complete games, a long-gone relic, but it's not. As recently as Greg Maddux we had a pitcher with north of 5,000 IP, which is good for 13th all-time. That said, I doubt we'll ever see 4,000 IP again. Put it this way: Sandy Alcantara has led or been near the top in IP the last two seasons: an average of 217. If he does that for another 15 seasons, or until he's 42, he'll still be a handful short.
HIT BY PITCH: Which active pitcher is among the top 20 career leaders in HBP? How many would guess Charlie Morton, who's done it 156 times, good for 16th on the all-time list. Three more and he passes Nolan Ryan. Four more and he passes Roger Clemens. Six more and he leaves Cy Young in the dust. The all-time top 25 is again fascinating: It's full of 19th century guys, erratic knuckleballers like Tim Wakefield and Charlie Hough, soft tossers like Jamie Moyer who needed to own the inside of the plate, and hurlers with fuck-you attitudes like RJ, Nolan, Drysdale and Bunning. What's also fascinating is who isn't on the active list. Clayton Kershaw has the fourth-most IP among active pitchers but he's 58th in HBP. I guess that's not how he rolls.
SAVES: The top 3 switched caps this offseason. No. 1 Craig Kimbrel (394 saves), who made his mark with the Braves and then imploded with Boston, left the Dodgers for the Phillies, while one-time Dodger mainstay Kenley Jansen (391), who saved 41 games for the Braves last season, signed with Boston. Meanwhile, No. 3 Aroldis Chapman (315), after a bumpy seventh season with the Yankees, is letting his facial hair grow in Kansas City. Despite his youth, Edwin Diaz is sixth on this list with 205 career saves but looks to be out for the season after tearing his patellar tendon during a WBC victory celebration.
WAR FOR PITCHERS: Four active pitchers have a bWAR north of 70: Verlander (78.1), Kershaw (73.1), Greinke (71.4), Scherzer (70.7). I assume all are going to the Hall. Are there up-and-comers? Hard to see. Among the under 30s, Aaron Nola (30 in June) has the highest WAR at 29.9, and among the top 100 actives there's no one under age 25. Are we about to enter a hitter's era?
EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW): We're getting a lot of changes this year: pitch timer (good), shift ban (hmm), throw-over limits (maybe), bigger bases (weird). Most are at least geared toward what's missing from the game: hits and steals. They're all designed to make the game go faster (in game time) and play zippier (in action), and I'm all for that. I still think ghost runners in extras is an abomination but I'm willing to see how the rest of it works. But if Trea Turner is hitting .450 in June with 100 steals we might have to recalibrate. See you at the park. I'll be the one wearing a Julio jersey. *FIN*
Saturday March 18, 2023
'Duke Snider, Besides Being an Actor...'
I think I came across this particular IMDb absurdity when I was doing research for my review of the Willie Mays doc a few months back. Mays was one of several baseball stars—usually Dodgers or Giants—who made appearances on family-friendly sitcoms in the 1950s and 1960s, and, on IMDb, I was checking exactly who was on what.
I was first struck by this bio:
So IMDb thinks Duke Snider was an actor? Known for that one episode of “The Rifleman”?
But of course not. IMDb doesn't think. The above is just a template IMDb/Amazon uses for lesser bios since apparently it's too cheap to hire anyone to write or police any of this. The template goes:
- [Name] was born on [date] in [place].
- He [is/was] an actor, known for [top 3 known fors].
- He is/was married to [wife/former wife].
- If applicable: He died [date] in [place].
That's how IMDb does the bios for Don Drysdale and Willie Mays, too. It's not how they do the bios for other sports stars like Joe Namath (“The son of a steel worker from...”) or Jim Brown (“Often mentioned as the greatest player in NFL history...”), but then both men actually starred in movies. They didn't just make a guest appearance on “The Donna Reed Show.”
Wait, I just checked a couple more. It's also not how they do the bios for Reggie Jackson (“Reggie Jackson is a baseball Hall of Famer nicknamed 'Mr. October'...”) or Ken Griffey Jr. (“Ken Griffey Jr. is considered by many experts to be the best player in baseball...”). And why is Junior's in the present tense, as if he were still playing? As if it were written in 1998 and no one's bothered to update it in IMDb's Amazon era?
Anyway, that's not the part I wanted to bitch about. This is. It's in Duke Snider's trivia section:
Besides being an actor, Duke Snider somehow played baseball, too? Wow. And apparently at a pretty high level!
Seriously, no one's minding the store.
Friday March 10, 2023
The New Timer, the Absence of the Clock, and a Great Pirates Comeback
As soon as I heard about the concept of a “pitch clock” I was against it. Baseball doesn't do clocks. Baseball doesn't do time. Didn't Roger Angell say that? But better?
“Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young.”
He also said this:
“Baseball's clock ticks inwardly and silently, and a man absorbed in a ball game is caught in a slow, green place of removal and concentration and in a tension that is screwed up slowly and ever more tightly with each pitcher's windup and with the almost imperceptible forward lean and little half-step with which the fielders accompany each pitch. Whatever the pace of the particular baseball game we are watching, whatever its outcome, it holds us in its own continuum and mercifully releases us from our own.”
That's beautiful. And now the current lords of Baseball are messing with that beauty. They want to make sure batters step into the box within a certain number of seconds (or get an automatic strike) and pitchers pitch within a certain number of seconds (or get an automatic ball). They tried it out in the minors and this year they're trying it out in the Majors. They're ruining the game!
That's what I thought.
And then I read Joe Posnanski's piece, “Baseball and Time,” in which he was very much in favor of the pitch-clock change. And he won me over. I'm looking forward to the change now.
No. 1, it's increasingly kinda necessary. In my lifetime, games have gotten longer and longer, and players aren't going to police themselves—they'll take what they can get—and so they have to be policed. Apparently spring training games are a half-hour quicker this season: 2.5 hours vs. 3 hours. That's about what it was when I was a kid.
As for Roger Angell's great quote about baseball and time? Poz says it still applies:
But there's a bigger reason I believe both in a pitch clock in baseball and no clock in baseball — it's because I think we're talking about two entirely different things. I don't think the concepts clash at all.
See, by “no clock in baseball,” what I'm really thinking about is not time between pitches. It's all about how outs, not minutes, are the currency of time in the game. That's the magic. ...
If anyone tried to mess with that part of baseball, sure, I'd roar angrily. Three outs in an inning ... nine innings in a game ... this is the most elegant way ever created to time a sport in my view. There is no clock limiting your possibilities. You could be down six runs with two outs in the ninth inning and nobody on base, the way Pittsburgh was against Houston in 2001. If this were an NFL game or NBA game or NHL game or soccer game, there would have been no hope.
But baseball has no clock. And there was hope. And the Pirates came back and won. I'll have more on that game as we get closer to a certain book I've written.
Point is, there's still no clock in baseball. There's now a timer to make sure that guys don't just stand around and halt the forward momentum of the game. But you're still alive until the last out is recorded.
I like that distinction. Here's that Pirates game, btw, when they defeated time and remained forever young.
You know the fun thing about that game? Besides the obvious? After Pat Meares' HR makes it 8-4, the color announcer—is it Bob Walk?—says, “A lot of hoopin' and hollerin', but the horse is already out of the barn.” I probably would've thought the same. No chance for a comeback. But when they do come back, when Brian Giles goes deep to win it, the same color announcer offers a really nice, really smooth mea culpa. “Seven runs in the bottom of the 9th inning, he hits a grand slam homerun off possibly the best closer in baseball ... That is just phenomenal. Well, they went out and found that horse, put a rope around his neck, and let him back in the barn.”
Opening Day is March 30.
Tuesday March 07, 2023
.350 Hitters By Decade
A few weeks ago, in his Pitchers and Catchers report, Joe Posnanski lamented the dearth of 140-RBI seasons by counting out their number per decade since the 1920s, and ending with this:
Yeah, that's right: zero. The most RBIs in a season was Miguel Cabrera's 139 in 2012, followed by Chris Davis' 138 in 2013. I love that Chris Davis and Khris Davis have two of the top RBI seasons of the last decade. But the point is that the big RBI seasons have mostly gone away. This is surely because fewer and fewer hitters are getting on base, batting averages have gone way down, Mike Trout and some of the other great hitters in the game can't stay healthy for a full season. But it's a little bit sad. I'm not a fan of using RBIs to judge a player's production, but I admit to getting a little thrill when I see a player with a BIG RBI total.
As with me and hitting .350. So I thought I'd do the same. To be honest, I thought I'd already done it, in the post “It's 2018: Do You Know Where Your .350 Hitters Are?” but I'd just counted up dearths, not decades. So here they are by decades:
- 1900-09: 25, led by Nap Lajoie's .426 in 1901
- 1910-19: 30, led by Ty Cobb's .420 in 1911
- 1920-29: 95!!!!!, led by Rogers Hornsby's .423 in 1924
- 1930-39: 50, led by Bill Terry's .401 in 1930
- 1940-49: 16, led by Ted Williams' .406 in 1941
- 1950-59: 8, led by Ted Williams' .388 in 1957
- 1960-69: 3, led by Norm Cash's .361 in 1961
- 1970-79: 8, led by Rod Carew's .388 in 1977
- 1980-89: 13, led by George Brett's .390 in 1980
- 1990-99: 18, led by Tony Gwynn's .394 in 1994
- 2000-09: 17, led by three players with .372
- 2010-19: 1, Josh Hamilton, .359 in 2010
- 2020-22: 2*, led by D.J. LeMahieu's .364 in 2020
First, how cool is it that Ted Williams had the highest batting average of the 1940s and 1950s? And it wasn't like it was 1949 an 1951. It was 1941 and 1957—a 16-year gap!
Second is that asterisked “2” for the 2020-22 years. Both occurred during the pandemic-shortened year when MLB teams played, at most, 61 games rather than 162. So do we count those? Not really. If you go by a full season, which is kinda what I do, no one's done it since Josh Hamilton in 2010.
But I'm thinking the new rules—particularly the banning of the shift—could swing the pendulum back again. Fingers crossed.
Wednesday March 01, 2023
Posnanski's Cool Thing/Mea Culpa
Here's a cool thing Joe Posnanski is doing. He's got a book out in September, “Why We Love Baseball: A History in 50 Moments,” which, yes, I'm already there. The cool thing is that while it's available from the usual online locales, if you buy it through his favorite local bookstore in Kansas City, Rainy Day Books, he'll not only sign the book for you but inscribe whatever you want:
I will write “Derek Jeter is awesome.” I will write “I agree with Mike Schur on hot fruit.” I will write, “I learned everything I know about baseball from Steve” — assuming your name is Steve.
For those not in the know: 1) He hates Derek Jeter, or just finds him massively overrated (but also underrated at times—no MVPs); 2) He likes hot fruit, as in pies, though his podcast partner is agin with a vengeance; and 3) He knows a lot about baseball. Apparently Poz made this offer with his previous book, too, “The Baseball 100,” and the lesson he learned there is to put a character limit on the inscription: no more than 150 characters. “We had to do it,” he writes; “some of the inscriptions for The Baseball 100 were Russian novels.”
So it's fun + a good cause. So of course I preordered my copy via Rainy Day Books. And this is the inscription I requested:
How Harmon Killebrew went from #67 on my first top 100 list to not making the cut at all I'll never know. What was I thinking?
Nice mea culpa. I'm glad he finally came around on the matter.
Saturday February 25, 2023
After counting down the top 100 players in baseball history and writing about the 50 greatest moments in baseball history (to be published in Sept.), Joe Posnanski is now in the midst of creating his very own Hall of Fame, the JoeBlogs Hall of Fame, where the goal is to honor the best and most legendary.
On the latter quality, he spills a few words. Legendary, he says, is...
...something that transcends the field, something that goes beyond the stats, something that isn't always easy to put into words or analysis. Our first class of 13 does not necessarily feature the players who are highest in WAR, though they are certainly all great players. Instead, I'm trying to choose people who in my view best represent that word, “legendary.” These are the players we still tell stories about, the players we will always tell stories about, the players who not only played the game at an exalted level but left us as fans feeling lucky to have seen them play the game.
As for his first class?
* Beyond the starting eight and three pitchers, Poz chooses two wild cards. Doesn't have to be a player, either. Could be a nonplayer who had a big impact on the game—like Branch Rickey. Oddly, though, if a player, Joe isn't letting us know who the starter is and who the WC is. This first class has four outfielders, including two right fielders. So is Aaron the wild card? Or Ruth? Or Teddy Ballgame, and you move Ruth to left? Feels like a cheat.
It's a good list, but his most recent player (Schmidt) also feels the least legendary. And it made me wonder if you need time and distance to create a legend. I mean, does “legend” work for contemporaries? Well, Ichiro a bit. Or Griffey. Or Pujols. Then I thought of a guy you could really tell a tall tale around and wrote the following in the comments section:
“You askin' about Randy Johnson? [Spit] Well, he was as tall as Paul Bunyan, with hair like a waterfall and a fastball that could kill birds in flight. One moment there would be a creature of God, and poof! Just a puff of feathers. His arms was so long he once tagged out a feller on first without leaving the pitching mound. Entire left-handed lineups sat on the bench when he pitched, and half of them retired from baseball rather than face him. Those that did trembled at the plate when they came across his fearsome visage.”
I added: “I mean, only half that stuff is untrue.”
Another reader, piggybacking on that comment, did the same with Nolan Ryan. His recitation was more stats-conscious, less tall tale. I didn't disagree with him, but I responded with the line about Randy I should've used in the first place: Did birds explode when he pitched?
He really does seem out of an American fable: Pecos Bill, John Henry and Randy Johnson.
Sunday February 19, 2023
Tim McCarver (1941-2023)
The second thing I thought about when I heard that Tim McCarver died was the way he predicted the Luis Gonzalez bloop single that ended the 2001 World Series. If you hate the Yankees like I hate the Yankees—or the opposite, if you love them—you remember it well.
Yanks had won three World Series in a row, crushed my 116-win pennantless Mariners in the ALCS, and crushed the soul of D-Backs closer Byung-hyun Kim with some late-inning homers in NYC to force a Game 7: Curt Schilling vs. a roided-up Roger Clemens. D-Backs scored first in the 6th (1-0), Yanks answered in the 7th (1-1), then Alfonso Soriano led off the top of the 8th with a solo shot (2-1, Yanks). Which is how it was in the bottom of the 9th when Mariano Rivera came out for his second inning of relief work. For much of the postseason, Joe Torre had gone to him often, and for longer than normal, and maybe it was finally having an effect. We got a leadoff single from Mark Grace, E-1 on an attempted sac bunt, but 1-3 on another attempted sac bunt. (C'mon, Brenley!). But then Tony Womack delivered the killer blow: a ripping double down the right field line to tie the game and put the winning run on third. After Craig Counsell was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Luis Gonzalez came up, and Torre moved the infield in for a play at the plate. And this is what color announcer Tim McCarver said:
“The one problem is Rivera throws inside to lefthanders, so lefthanders get a lot of broken bat hits into shallow outfield ... the shallow part of the outfield. That's the danger of bringing the infield in with a guy like Rivera on the mound.”
And that's exactly what happened. Exactly. And there was joy in Mudville.
McCarver did this kind of thing often. He was smart baseball analyst, who, like all good catchers, kept all of the game in his head, and he was able to articulate that to us. Sure, he sometimes took the air out of the room. Roger Angell began his great 1999 profile of McCarver, “The Bard of the Booth,” by listing off all the complaints he'd heard about McCarver from friends, which amounted to: he talks too much, he laughs and enjoys himself too much, he makes puns, he thinks he's too smart, he is too smart. The complaints were baffling to Angell. Me, too. Give me smart any day of the week. I'm so, so tired of the other.
Joe Posnanski has a nice tribute over on his Substack where he reminds us that, for a time, McCarver looked like a Hall of Famer—particularly after his exemplary 1967 season: .295/.369/.452, while catching a great World Series-winning pitching staff led by Bob Gibson, and finishing second in N.L. MVP voting to teammate Orlando Cepeda. He also caught Gibson's great 1968 Game 1, in which Gibson set a World Series record by striking out 17 Tigers. Overall, in three World Series for the Cards, McCarver hit .311/.384/.500, with two doubles, three triples, two homers and 11 RBIs. In '66, he led the league in triples with 13. That's gotta be a rarity for a catcher.
But the second half of his career, with numerous teams, wasn't like the first, and he was a one-and-done HOF candidate: just 3.8% of the vote.
And here's the first thing I thought about when I heard that Tim McCarver died. In 1995, The New York Times asked him about the most boring part of baseball—I guess because people think it's boring—and he answered not as a broadcaster but as a player. He said it was the small talk first basemen engage in with the base runner:
They'll ask: “How ya hittin' 'em? How's the family?” And they could care less. It's the “Have a nice day” syndrome. I hated it, and Bob Gibson really hated it. One time, against the Expos, Bob got on and Ron Fairly told him, “Hey, you're throwing well.” Fairly came up to bat a couple innings later and Gibson hit him square in the ribs. I think more players ought to retaliate like that.
God, that's perfect. First, it's so Bob Gibson, to shut up a guy by hitting him, but it's also so Ron Fairly, who, in 1995 when I first read this, was the Mariners color announcer, and tended to take the air out of the room. But it's also so Tim McCarver. It's egoless. It's a great baseball story where he's not in it at all. He just wanted to tell a great baseball story.
Rest in peace. Thanks for the call.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Chipper Jones**
- Greg Maddux
- Jack Morris
- Ryne Sandberg
- Lee Smith
- Frank Thomas
- Alan Trammell
** He called in sick and was replaced by Darryl Hall, CEO Diamondbacks
- Paul Beeston (Blue Jays, MLB)
- Theo Epstein (Red Sox, Cubs, MLB)
- Arte Moreno (Angels—owner)
- Kim Ng (Marlins)
- Dave St. Peter (Twins)
- Ken Williams (White Sox)
- Steve Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau)
- LaVelle Neal (Mpls. Star-Tribune)
- 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.
|Black Ink (27)||31||23||9|
|Gray Ink (144)||147||111||105|
|HOF Measure (100)||116||134||100|
|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.
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.
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|
|Scott Rolen||6||63.2%||70.1||0||27||99||ROY 8xGG|
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.
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