Baseball posts

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

Fourth to 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  

Thursday June 02, 2022

Throwback Fan Day

Warning: This will be an old guy's lament.

After going to the Mariners game on Sunday and being surrounded by people who didn't get the ettiquette of baseball (waiting until the at-bat is over before returning to your seat), or ettiquette generally (it's kind of rude to stand for a confab when you're blocking people's views), or baseball generally, I thought about the days when it felt like the stands were filled with real fans—people who knew something-something about the game. I thought of the time before my time, when men in suits and fedoras would show up on weekday afternoons, probably straight from work, probably playing hookey from it. And I thought: That would've been interesting to have been part of that. How do we make that happen again?

Maybe a promotion? You know throwback unis for players? Why not throwback unis for fans? Show up in suit/tie and get half off. Add a fedora for another quarter. I don't know. I just like the idea of it.

But mostly I like the idea of going to baseball games with baseball fans.

Opening Day, early '60s, around the time I was born.

Posted at 09:59 AM on Thursday June 02, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Tuesday May 24, 2022

Roger Angell (1920-2022)

His books were always subtitled “A Baseball Companion,” which is what he was.

In the fall of 1994, after Major League baseball players and owners did what world wars couldn’t do and canceled the rest of the season, the postseason, and the World Series, I made up for the lack by reading all of Roger Angell’s New Yorker baseball essays in order. I think I’d read him piecemeal before. Now I began with “Box Scores” and “The Old Folks Behind Home,” the 1962 essays from “The Summer Game,” and continued through the joys of Bob Gibson (“Distance”), the sorrows of Steve Blass (“Gone for Good”), until I got to “Up at the Hall,” from the summer of 1987, the last essay in “Season Ticket,” and oh so tantalizingly close to reading Angell on my own team, the Minnesota Twins, finally winning the World Series. It was four books, about 1500 pages, and a quarter-century of the most elegant baseball writing.

The early books were better, but then they were among the best baseball books I’d ever read. I’ve always loved his account of the 1968 World Series, punctuated throughout with descriptions of Lou Brock—“Brock was stranded at third after stealing second...” “Lou Brock twice stole second...”—before the grand paragraph that reads like a punch line:

Sunday's game, played in a light-to-heavy Grand Banks rainstorm and won by the Cardinals, 10-1, offered several lessons, all of them unappreciated by the Tigertowners. (1) Lou Brock does not always steal second. He led off the game with a homer, tripled and scored in the fourth, grounded out in the sixth, and then doubled and stole third in the eighth. It was his seventh stolen base of the Series, tying the record he set last year against Boston.

There was wisdom in his writing. On the Amazin’ Mets in ’69: “Disbelief persists, then, and one can see now that disbelief itself was one of the Mets’ most powerful assets all through the season.” On getting used to the outlandishness of the Astrodome: “I don't know if this revisionism is the result of trying to be nice to Astros fans, or, perhaps worse, if it's part of that human trait that has kept our species thriving for so long but which may lead to our ultimate downfall—the fact that human beings can get used to anything.”

“The Summer Game,” with its great cover drawing by James Stevenson, covered 10 seasons, and the subsequent books would cover only five—the next, “Five Seasons,” announcing itself as exactly that—but they were all about the same length. So was Angell given more space? Was he less concise? Sometimes it felt like it. He also might have been writing more essays. Along with his spring and autumn pieces, he’d do features on fans (“Three for the Tigers”), owners (“The Companions of the Game,” about the Giants’ Horace Stoneham), old players (“The Web of the Game,” Smoky Joe Wood), and new aspects of the old game, (“Sharing the Beat,” about women sportswriters). In “Stories for a Rainy Afternoon,” he told, via Tommy Lasorda, the Greatest Baseball Story Ever Told.

Occasionally, intentionally or not, he wound up encompassing the rhythms of the season: the hope of spring, the harsh reality of fall. Early in 1971, he wrote that “the best entertainment in baseball this year is watching Willie Mays,” who started out hot, and his closing sentence for that article was: “The leader is still leading.” Four months later, after Mays performed poorly in the postseason, Angell urged him to retire: “Hang them up, Willie. Please.” In the spring of 1979, he wrote of Carl Yastrzemski, “Sometime next August, he will knock out his three-thousandth base hit; along about the same week, if statistical projections hold up, he will hit his four-hundredth homer. The two blows might be the same blow; it might even happen in Minnesota on August 22nd, on Carl Yastrzemski's fortieth birthday. I wouldn't bet against it.” He should have. In the autumn piece, he admits how No. 3,000 didn’t come until September, an infield dribbler, after Yaz suffered through “an excruciating dry spell at the plate.”

The subhed of his Steve Blass piece was about how “baseball suddenly stopped being fun for him,” and I felt a bit of that happened to Angell in the late 1970s. He admitted as much late in “Late Innings,” the third collection: “… I badly wanted to shake my miseries over the money side of the game.” He did. He always found the joy. And we found the joy in him. Here he is, a sentence before a game-tying home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series:

Bernie Carbo, pinch-hitting, looked wholly overmatched by Eastwick, flailing at one inside fastball like someone fighting off a wasp with a croquet mallet.

Angell was a real writer. I say this not only because he wrote so well but because when he appeared as a talking head in the Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary, which first aired that bereft fall of ’94, I was kind of disappointed. That’s him? And that’s all we get from him? He wrote so beautifully and spoke only OK. He popped on the page, not on the camera.

He was also the magazine’s fiction editor, of course, a position that had once been his mother’s, and he wrote his own fiction. And as he aged, he wrote about aging. He’d been a political child, raised in a democracy during Fascist times, and in his last articles for The New Yorker he did not fail to recognize the moment he was in:

I am ninety-eight now, legally blind, and a pain in the ass to all my friends and much of my family with my constant rantings about the Trump debacle—his floods of lies, his racism, his abandonment of vital connections to ancient allies and critically urgent world concerns, his relentless attacks on the media, and, just lately, his arrant fearmongering about the agonizingly slow approach of a fading column of frightened Central American refugees. 

Then he urged us all to vote. That was in 2018. Two years later, in his last article, just four paragraphs long, he wrote about the deep pride in democracy and debates, and how Donald Trump was making a mockery of both. I’m glad he lived long enough to see Trump lose.

His baseball writing will live on. He knew what made the national pastime unique:

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. … Any persistent effort to destroy this unique phenomenon, to “use up” baseball's time with planned distractions, will in fact transform the sport into another mere entertainment and thus hasten its descent to the status of a boring and stylized curiosity.

In theory, Roger Angell knew, a baseball game could go on forever. He nearly did.

Posted at 09:22 AM on Tuesday May 24, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday May 08, 2022

3,000 for Miggy

While I was in Italy, Miguel Cabrera, one of the most beloved players currently playing the game, got his 3,000th hit. I was following a bit of it from there. I knew he was sitting on 2,999, and I knew there was some controversy about the Yankees intentionally walking him in a game—Joe Posnanski writes about it here—but then I lost the thread. I assumed Miggy had done it, I just didn't hear about it, and none of the Italians were talking about it. Turns out he did it in the very next game. The IBB was in the 8th inning against the Yankees on April 22, the day I arrived in Tuscany, and No. 3,000, a single to right, happened in the 1st inning against the Colorado Rockies on April 23. Miggy is the 33rd man, and, after Cobb and Kaline, the third player wearing a Detroit Tigers uniform, to reach 3,000 hits.

Here's a sad thought: Will he be the last? At least for awhile?

It feels like it, which is odd since 3,000 hits have become more common, not less, over the years. Until 1970, only eight players had ever reached the plateau: Anson, Wagner, Lajoie, Cobb, Speaker, Collins, Waner, and Musial. Shorter careers didn't help. Seasons lost to world wars didn't help, either. Then in the 1970s alone, seven players joined those eight: Aaron, Mays, Clemente, Kaline, Rose, Brock, and Yaz. The '80s added one (Carew), the '90s seven more (Yount, Brett, Winfield, Murray, Molitor, Gwynn, Boggs), then four and five for the first two decades of this century (Ripken, Henderson, Palmeiro, Biggio, Jeter, A-Rod, Ichiro, Beltre, Pujols). Miggy is the first to do it in the 2020s. And I don't see anyone else who might do it soon. 

Robinson Canó is next on the active list, with 2632. But he's 39 years old, lost all of last year to a PED suspension, and hasn't exactly been a hitting machine recently—getting 94, 100 and 42 hits from 2018-20. That won't cut it. More importantly, last week he was cut by the Mets, who paid $45 million for the privilege. And though another team could pick him up for a relative song, so far no one has. 

And only two other players are in the 2,000s: Yadier Molina and Joey Votto, and both are in their late 30s, and neither has 2200. Don't see it. Elvis Andrus is only 33, and has 1880, but over the last three seasons he's got a .603 OPS. A few 32-year-olds are maybes: Jose Altuve (1791), Freddie Freeman (1734) and Eric Hosmer (1662). A few years ago, Altuve seemed the likeliest candidate, leading the league in hits from 2014 to 2017, always with 200+. But then fallow times. He'd have to turn it around but he's already been on the IL this year. Trout? Walks too much, gets injured too much. He's 30 and isn't halfway there (1446). Bryce Harper will turn 30 in October, but he's even further back, at 1297, and he's only gotten more than 150 hits twice in his career, his two MVP seasons, and his high was 172. A guy who might have a shot is Manny Machado. He's also 29, but with 1465 hits, and he doesn't walk as much as Trout and Harper.

All of which points out just how difficult it is to do this, particularly in this age of defensive shifts and falling batting averages. So congrats to Miggy, one of our favorite players in recent years, a man who brings real joy to the game. This past weekend he also became just the 19th player in baseball history to get his 600th career double. Last month, 3,000 hits, last season, 500 homeruns. So how many guys have done all three—3,000 hits, 600 doubles and 500 homeruns? The answer is Miggy, Albert Pujols, and a guy named Henry Aaron. That's it.

Posted at 05:43 PM on Sunday May 08, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday April 14, 2022

Six Outs from Perfection

Yesterday, in Minnesota, visiting LA Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled his pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, after 7 innings. Kershaw had thrown 80 pitches, struck out 13, walked nobody, and hadn't allowed a hit. None of the Dodgers had made an error and no Twin got on via a dropped third strike. No Twin had gotten on: 21 up and 21 down. Kershaw had a perfect game going

And he was pulled.

After 7 innings and 80 pitches.

I get the arguments in favor. To the Dodgers and Roberts, a win is a win. You don't get extra points for being perfect. And Kershaw's fragile. He's gone on the IL so many times. You need him for later in the year. You need him for October. 

But a perfect game is a bit of magic dropped into our sad world. There have only been 21 perfect games in the modern era—beginning with Cy Young in 1904, adding Addie Joss' in 1908 and Charlie Robertson(?) in 1922; then nothing until Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series. Think of the great pitchers who never threw one: Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Lefty Grove, Bob Feller. We got three in the swinging '60s (including Sandy Koufax's), none in the '70s when I was beginning to pay attention, three more in the '80s, four in the '90s, and two in the aughts (including Randy Johnson's). Then in the first three years of the 2010s we had five, including King Felix's perfecto on a sunny August afternoon at Safeco Field, and it seemed like it wouldn't be much of a thing anymore. But no, Felix's was the last. Silence for 10 years now. Magic is tough. Perfection is tough.

I doubt he would have done it—those last six outs, man—but I don't know how you don't give him a chance to go for it. “Anyone gets on, you're out.” Just that. Kershaw is the best pitcher of his generation, but he's 34 and faltering, he's not going to get more chances. And no Dodger has thrown one since Koufax in '65.

But intead of a chance at magic, at perfection, in came the set-up man, Alex Vesia, who was 26, who'd pitched well last year (2.25 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 40 IP), but was hardly Kershaw. He got a ground out, then gave up a single to Gary Sanchez (of all people) and a walk to Max Kepler, and there went that. But it didn't matter. Even if he and whomever from the Dodger relief corps had retired the next six in a row, it wouldn't have been a perfect game. It would've been a team perfect game and nobody cares about that, the way nobody cares about team no-hitters. Imagine a team homerun: Harmon Killebrew swings, Cesar Tovar runs to third, Rod Carew runs from third to home. Great. Nobody cares.

I should be the last person complaining. Now King Felix still has the last perfecto. And the Twins are already 0-2 in perfect games: Catfish Hunter blanked them in Sept. '68, and David Wells did it in May '98. If they'd been perfected again, they would tie the Rays for the worst record in perfect games.

But it's so indicative of Major League Baseball these days. Here's a chance for greatness, for magic. And ... nah.

7 IP, 0 Hits, 0 Runs, 0 BBs, 13 Ks

Posted at 07:19 AM on Thursday April 14, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday April 07, 2022

Opening Day 2022: Your Active Leaders


  • SLIDESHOW: Albert is still with us, as is Miggy and Nellie, as is (sadly) the 10th-inning ghost runner. Who's gone? Mostly guys who didn't factor in on the active leaderboard: Nick Markakis, Buster Posey, Ryan Braun and Wade Davis. Oh, and Kyle Seager, of course. Next year we'll get huge turnover, since Albert, now back with St. Louie, says this is his final season. In the meantime, be prepared to scroll through a lot of Albert. And Mike, and Justin, and Clayton.

  • BATTING AVERAGE: Almost every year I expect Miggy to tumble and almost every year he kind of does—but not enough. Before the start of the 2019 season, for example, the difference between him and second-place Jose Altuve was razor-thin: .3165 vs .3164. And Miggy was seven years older. And since then, he's hit just .266. But Altuve hasn't hit well, either, so here Miggy stands, ahead .310 to .307. They're the only active players with career BAs over .305. Trout is third with .3048, then it's a scattering of guys between .303 and .300. Last year, I wrote that Miggy's .313 was “the lowest active batting average since ... ever.” Rinse. Repeat.

  • ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Just three years ago, active leader Joey Votto's .427 OBP was tied with Tris Speaker for 13th all-time. It's a still an impressive .416, 26th all-time, but Mike Trout has eclipsed him at .419. No one else is close. Bryce Harper is at .391, then you got three guys in the .380s. Come Opening Day 2024, though, expect some competition. Baseball Reference has a 3,000 PA minimum for active leaders and Juan Soto is 2/3 of the way there. And he's at .432. And it's rising.

  • SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Only 17 active players have career slugging percentages above .500, but only one of those, Mike Trout, is above .550—and he's at .583. So a bit of a gap. He'll get some competition when players like Aaron Judge (.554) and Juan Soto (.550) get their qualifying 3,000 plate appearances (2,465 and 2,003, respectively). Until then, can't touch this.

  • OPS: Same story. Seven active players have an OPS above .900. Joey Votto is second with a .936 mark, while Mike Trout is first with 1.001. A bit of a gap. A year or two from qualifying, Aaron Judge is at .940 and Juan Soto is at .981. More junior achievements: Vlad Jr. is halfway to qualifying with .884, Acuna Jr. also halfway with .925, and Tatis Jr. is one-third of the way to qualifying with .965.

  • GAMES: Only nine players in baseball history have ever played 3,000 games: Rose, Yaz, Henry, Rickey, Ty, Stan, Eddie Murray, Willie, Cal. With 29 more games, Albert joins the club. It's a pretty cool club even if no one knows it exists. Go, Albert.

  • HITS: Another milestone to look forward to: Miguel Cabrera is just 13 hits shy of 3,000. Barring a horrific start, he should do it in April. Serious question: Might he be the last to do this? Robinson Cano is 376 shy and he's only banged out 248 hits since 2018. Then it's Yadier Molina at 2112 and no one young seems on the trajectory. Getting hits feels like a lost art. Last season, the NL averaged 8.04 hits per game, which is the lowest since 1909. Oh, and yes, Albert is the active leader with 3301—12th all-time. Barring disaster, he'll wind up 10th: Paul Molitor is currently that with 3319.

  • DOUBLES: Albert has 672, 5th all time, but we're nearing another Miggy miletone: He's just three doubles from becoming the 19th player in baseball history with 600 doubles. That means he'd have 3,000 hits, 500 HRs and 600 doubles. How many guys in baseball history have done that? Talk about your exclusive clubs. It's just Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols.

  • TRIPLES: Not even sure who to put here. Dexter Fowler (82 triples) signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays but he could be let go at any moment. Brett Gardner (73) is in pinstripe limbo. No. 3 Alcides Escobar (56) is apparently assured playing time on the awful Washington Nationals. The one thing that's certain? The most exciting play in baseball is the saddest of stats, because it's disappearing. Last year I wrote: “Fowler's 82 is the lowest for an active leader since 1883, when a dude named Tom York had 80.” Rinse. Repeat.

  • HOMERUNS: Albert's No. 1 with 679. Does he have 21 more in him? Last year, split between So Cal teams, he hit 17. Miggy, at 502, is on his last legs. No. 3 is interesting: Nelson Cruz. He turned 41 last July and between Minnesota and Tampa Bay hit 32, giving him 449 career. Does he have 51 more in him? I can't imagine a baseball fan in the world rooting against him. 

  • RBIs: Seven active players have more than 1,000. Albert is first with 2150 (third all-time), Miggy is second with 1804 (22nd all-time) and a distant third is Robinson Cano with 1302 (114th all-time). Fun stat: Asdrubal Cabrera has more RBIs than Mike Trout: 869 to 816. I guess that's what happens when the best player in baseball spends most of his career leading off or batting second.

  • RUNS: Same top three, more evenly spaced: Albert at 1872, Miggy at 1505, Cano at 1257. Trout is the first twentysomething on the active list: 967. The all-time record is Rickey Henderson, 2295, 50 more than second-place Ty Cobb. Albert is 14th. Eleven more and he passes Tris Speaker. 

  • BASES ON BALLS: Four guys have more than 1,000: Albert at 1345, Joey Votto on his heels at 1294 and Miggy at 1199. Any guesses as to the fourth guy? I wouldn't have gotten it: Carlos Santana with 1077. All-time, Albert is tied for 34th with Willie McCovey but doesn't walk much anymore: just 14 last season. 

  • STRIKEOUTS: There was a time when the active leader in K’s was a sure HOFer: Mantle, Killebrew, Stargell, Jackson, Schmidt. Now it's just as likely to be an Adam Dunn, Chris Davis or, this year, Justin Upton, who's whiffed 1948 times, good for seventh all-time. This is another question-mark active leader, though, since Upton was let go by the Angels a week before Opening Day. If no one picks him up, then insert Miggy. He's got 1930: 10th all-time. 

  • STOLEN BASES: Here's a Washington Post headline from a week ago: “Dee Strange-Gordon hopes to impress Nationals with 'lost art' of base running.” Truer words. The “lost art” part. If Strange-Gordon makes the team, he's the active leader with 333. If he doesn't, Elvis Andrus has entered the building with 317. Either way, it'll be the lowest active leader since Luis Aparicio in the early '60s. Last player to steal 50+ in a season? That would be Dee with 60 in 2017. Last to steal 75+? Jose Reyes, 78, 2007. How about 80+? You gotta go back to Rickey Henderson with 93 in 1988.

  • GROUNDED INTO DOUBLE PLAYS: As hits go down, will GDPs go down, too? It feels like it. Last season, the AL was near historic lows in GDPs, with only the hitless '60s comparing, while the NL was the same, but playing second fiddle to the early '90s for some reason. Anyway, if true, then this record is Albert's forever. Career, he's got 413, 63 ahead of second-place Cal Ripken, Jr. Second on the actives, and third all-time, is Miggy with 342. 

  • DEFENSIVE WAR: Andrelton Simmons's 28.1 dWAR is 13th all-time. Meaning, according to Baseball Reference, Simmons has provided as much value defensively as Paul Konerko did everywhere. Second on the active dWAR list is Yadier Molina with 26.8. They're the only actives above 20. Fun stat: No. 1 in dWAR last season is the guy who replaced Simmons at shortstop for the Twins: Carlos Correa with 2.9.

  • WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: Of the top five guys, two of them had their career numbers drop last season. No. 1 Albert went from 100.8 to 99.6, while No. 4 Miggy went from 69.6 to 68.7. Mike Trout played only 36 games, but they were stellar, and he improved from 74.5 to 76.1. Robinson Cano got bumped up a bit, too, 69.1 to 69.6, as did Joey Votto: 62.0 to 64.6. So which of the five is a HOFer? Albert, Trout and Miggy, obviously. Cano, sadly, no. Votto is the question mark. 

  • WINS: Seven active pitchers have 150+ wins, but only two have 200+ wins. The leader of the pack, Justin Verlander, who turned 39 in February, is also promising to become the first 300-game winner since Randy Johnson in 2009. More power to him. Currently he's at 226, and has won exactly one game in the last two years. Zack Greinke is second on the actives with 219. Verlander is currently 70th on the all-time list, three behind Luis Tiant and Sad Sam Jones. 

  • ERA: This stat used to be Clayton Kershaw's and no one was close. Now someone is. During his heyday, after the 2016 season, Kershaw's career ERA stood at an insane 2.37, and now it's a still stellar 2.49, but Jacob deGrom has all but caught up. Or down? After the 2017 season, his ERA stood at 2.98, and since then he's gone: 1.70, 2.43, 2.38, 1.09 (in a half season). All that adds up to a career ERA of 2.497. Third is Chris Sale (3.03), fourth Max Scherzer (3.16), fifth Corey Kluber (3.19).

  • STRIKEOUTS: This used to be Verlander's but if you miss a few seasons people catch up—in this case Max Scherzer, who now has 3020 Ks to JV's 3013. Verlander doesn't walk much, just 851 free passes, but Scherzer is even better: just 677 BBs. Back in the day, the only pitcher with > 3,000 Ks and < 1,000 BBs was Fergie Jenkins. In the last two decades, he's been joined by Maddux, Shilling, and Pedro. These two could make it six. 

  • BASES ON BALLS: Last season, Verlander was leading with 851 career passes but two guys were close on his tail: Jon Lester and Francisco Liriano. Lester passed him up, but both men retired, so it's Verlander's again. Ervin Santana is second with 776 and Oliver Perez(?) is third with 761. 

  • INNINGS PITCHED: Last season, Zack Greinke became the 137th pitcher to reach 3,000 innings pitched. Verlander will join that club in April: He's sitting on 2988. Then it's Max Scherzer, 2586, Ervin Santana, 2486, and Clayton Kershaw at 2454. The all-time record is Cy Young: 7356. The modern record, Phil Niekro, 5404.  

  • COMPLETE GAMES: Last season, his age 39 season, Adam Wainwright pitched three complete games, leading the Majors, and is now the active leader with 27. Verlander is second with 26, Kershaw third with 25. But as you know, this is barely a stat now. The all-time leader is Cy Young, with 749. How much is no one going to touch this? If you count every CG for every active pitcher in the Majors, you get 528. 

  • SAVES: The Dodgers let the No. 2 active saves leader, Kenley Jansen (350) test the free-agent waters, then traded for the No. 1 active saves leader, Craig Kimbrel (372). Will be interesting to see how this turns out. After several pretty horrific seasons, Kimbrel was Mariano-good for the first half of 2021, giving up only 2 earned runs in 36.3 innings. The Cubs then traded him across town. And in his third appearance with the ChiSox, Kimbrel gave up 3 earned runs. Against the Cubs! He did it again later that month—also against the Cubs. His splits last season are like Jekyll/Hyde: 0.49 ERA for the Cubs, 5.09 for the ChiSox. So who shows up at Chavez Ravine?

  • WAR FOR PITCHERS: Verlander's barely pitched for two seasons and he's still on top here with a 72.2. Then it's Kershaw (69.1), Greinke (68), Scherzer (66.2). After that quartet, no one is above 50. Are all four going into the Hall? To me, the only question mark is Greinke, who never dominated the way the others did. But he was fun.

  • EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW): And exit music for baseball? The way the current lords are running the show, sometimes it feels like it.  *FIN*
Posted at 06:50 AM on Thursday April 07, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
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