erik lundegaard

Baseball posts

Tuesday October 20, 2020

Dodgers vs. Rays: a World Series Comparison

This was kind of fun to put together. Definitely a tale of Haves and Have Nots:

OVERALL WIN % .528 .477
2020 WIN % .717 .667
PRIOR NAMES Grays, Atlantics, Bridegrooms, Grooms, Superbas, Trolley Dodgers, Robins Devil Rays
FANS' QUIRK Leave before 9th inning Fans? 
BEST HISTORICAL PLAYER (bWAR) Clayton Kershaw (69.6) Evan Longoria (51.8)
BEST 2020 PLAYER (bWAR) Mookie Betts (3.4) Brandon Lowe (2.1)
RETIRED NUMBERS 1 (Pee Wee Reese), 2 (Tommy Lasorda), 4 (Duke Snider), 19 (Jim Gilliam), 20 (Don Sutton), 24 (Walter Alston), 32 (Sandy Koufax), 39 (Roy Campanella), 42 (Jackie Robinson), 53 (Don Drysdale) 12 (Wade Boggs), 66 (Don Zimmer)
HALL OF FAMERS Wee Willie Keeler (1939), Dazzy Vance (1955), Zack Wheat (1959), Jackie Robinson (1962), Burleigh Grimes (1964), Roy Campanella (1969), Sandy Koufax (1972), Duke Snider (1980), Walter Alston (1983), Don Drysdale (1984), Pee Wee Reese (1984), Leo Durocher (1994), Tommy Lasorda (1997), Don Sutton (1998) n/a
GREAT BOOKS WRITTEN ABOUT The Boys of Summer, Baseball's Great Experiment, Sandy Koufax, Opening Day, I Never Had It Made, 1947: When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball n/a
ALL-STARS ON 2020 SQUAD Clayton Kershaw (8x), Mookie Betts (4x), Kenley Jensen (3x), Cody Bellinger (2x), Corey Seager (2x), Alex Wood, Blake Treinen, Walker Buehler, Justin Turner, AJ Pollock, Joc Pederson, Max Muncy Charlie Morton (2x), Brandon Lowe, Austin Meadows, Blake Snell
2020 PAYROLL  $107.9 million  (2nd) $28.2 million (28th) 

How odd is it for the Dodgers to be the Haves? Historically they've been so Have Nots, particularly vis a vis the New York Yankees. At the same time, just add it up. They have the second-most postseason appearances in MLB history (34), and the second-most number of pennants (21), one more than the Giants and two more than the Cardinals. Where they lack? This very thing. Titles. Rings. They have six, nothing to sneeze at, but that puts them sixth all-time, behind the Giants (8), Red Sox (9), Athletics (9), Cardinals (11), and, of course, the damn Yankees (27). 

The Rays have no titles. One of six teams with none: Rangers, Padres, Brewers, Mariners, Rockies. 

I think the saddest of the above comparisons is retired numbers, mostly because the Rays' retired numbers are just sad. Zimmer was a Rays coach for the 11 seasons before he died. And yes, he was great, a flamboyant baseball character, but better known for being on other teams. And ... coach? Not a manager? How many coaches have had numbers retired? But the worst is Boggs. Played all of two seasons with the Devil Rays, his last two seasons, where he accumulated a bWAR of 1.2.

And on the other side? Not just the left-hand of God, Sandy Koufax, but Jackie Robinson, a player whose impact on the game was so great his number has been retired by every Major League team. Including the Rays.

The most important comparison, though? 2020 win percentage. It's kinda close, and that's all that matters. Plus the Rays are younger and better rested. Plus they're the team that took out the Yankees, so ... respect.

I'm rooting for 7.

ADDENDUM: I guess I'm rooting for Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation who stumbles in the postseason. Last night, during Game 1, he didn't stumble. He gave up a hit to the first batter he faced, a walk to the third, and a homer in the Xth, but that was it. Good line: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 8-1 K/BB. Trouble is, he's had a lot of good lines in the post. Then the eruptions. I'm hoping for none the rest of the way. 

Posted at 06:52 AM on Tuesday October 20, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday October 18, 2020

Joe Morgan (1943-2020)

When I was a kid growing up in Minnesota in the mid-1970s, the most imitated batting stances, in no particular order, were:

  • the sudden Killebrew crouch
  • Stargell's pinwheels
  • the Carew leanback
  • Joe Morgan chicken flap

I was in an AL city, there was no interleague play, but I saw Morgan and the Big Red Machine all the time. They were always in the thick of it, and Morgan, who died last Sunday, was one of their in-the-thick-of-it-iest players. Or was he? His overall postseason line isn't good: .182/.323/.348. Cf., Pete Rose: .321/.388/.440. Or Johnny Bench: .266/.335/.527. Both are better than their career numbers, Morgan's is way worse. I do like the leap from his awful BA to his pretty good OBP. That's so Joe. Here's a fun stat: In the 1976 NLCS against the 103-win Philadelphia Phillies, which the Reds swept, Morgan went hitless in three games: .000 BA. Guess what his OBP was? .462. Then he went on to win the 1976 World Series MVP in a four-game sweep of the Yanks, with a .333/.412/.733 line. That may have been one of the few postseason contests where I rooted for the Reds. I didn't like them. I liked Morgan and Bench and Tony Perez I guess, but my antipathy for Pete Rose trumped all.

Did we know how good Morgan was? Maybe a little. He was NL MVP two years in a row, '75 and '76, the stolid, sparkplug center of that insane lineup, so we kind of knew. But OBP wasn't yet a thing. Advanced measures weren't a thing. WAR wasn't a thing. There's a great story about Morgan's first spring training with the Reds after he was traded from the Astros in Nov. 1971 as part of an eight-player deal. He was practicing laying down bunts when Pete Rose yelled at him. “Hey, we don't do that shit here!” They didn't sacrifice. No, they took. Like Paul Muni, they stole, and Morgan wound up second to Lou Brock for most stolen bases in the 1970s. And they hit. And they hit with power. And that kind of atmosphere was exactly what Joe Morgan apparently needed.

Prior to the trade, he'd had some good seasons, particularly his 1965 rookie year (he finished second in the ROY voting) and 1971. But from '72 to '76, this is where Morgan ranked in terms of bWAR for position players in all of Major League Baseball—NL and AL:

  • 1972: first
  • 1973: first
  • 1974: second 
  • 1975: first
  • 1976: first

By bWAR, he's the 21st greatest position player of all time. He's ahead of Yaz, Clemente, Brett, Griffey Jr., Carew, Boggs, Kaline. He's ahead of Bench and Rose. I think we thought he was good; I just don't think we thought he was that good. 

So it's funny to note, as Joe Posnanski does in his obit, that Morgan hated bWAR. All the advanced stats showed what a great player he was and yet he hated all the advanced stats. You gotta smile.

Posted at 08:12 AM on Sunday October 18, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday October 10, 2020

Whitey Ford (1928-2020)

And now Whitey Ford. Good god.

Have so many legendary baseball players died so close to each other before? In five weeks we've lost Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and now Whitey Ford. Plus Gale Sayers if you expand to the NFL. This in the midst of a horrific year in which Don Larsen, Al Kaline, John Prine, John Lewis, Curly Neal, Chadwick Boseman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Olivia de Havilland, and Eddie Van Halen have all died. 

Whitey lived longer than those other baseball legends, which is partly why he wasn't a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The BBWAA was a bit chincey until the late '70s. It took Ford two goes, which means he didn't get inducted with fellow pitcher Warren Spahn but had to settle for going in with his great friend and teammate Mickey Mantle. Ford debuted before the Mick (1950 vs. '51), went 9-1 in 12 starts, pitched 8 2/3 shutout innings in the final game of the 1950 World Series, then lost two years to the military. He, Mantle and Billy Martin were big booze buddies, and after one particularly egregious outing at the Copacobana that made noise in the press, the Yankees looked at the trio and quickly traded Martin. Sorry, Billy. (He made his way back.)

Here's how hard it is to win 300 games: Ford pitched 16 years for one of the winningest teams of all time, and posted the lowest complete-career ERA for any starting pitcher since World War II, and he won just 236 games. I guess he was oft-injured? He didn't win 20 until 1961, when he won 25. He led the league in wins three times, ERA twice, innings pitched twice, complete games once, shutouts twice. Never in Ks. He wasn't a K machine and his career K-BB numbers aren't HOF-worthy: 1,956-1,086. Not even two-to-one. But he's much better than I thought. For a while, with a bit of an anti-Yankees bias (cough), I dismissed him as a beneficiary of those great Yankee teams rather than a great pitcher on his own. But a 2.75 ERA doesn't lie.

He owns most World Series pitching records: wins, IP, GS, Ks. After winning Game 1 of the '62 Series against the Giants, a 6-2 complete-game victory, his record stood at 10-4. He started four more World Series games and lost them all. Then the real fall. The Yankees went from unstoppable pennants winners in 1964 to bottom dwellers in '66, and two months into the '67 season, injury plagued, he hung up his spikes for good. If you look at his W-L, he was done: 2-4. If you look at his ERA, he wasn't: 1.64. His last game was the first half of a double-header in Detroit on May 21, 1967. In the bottom of the 1st, he gave up a double, a groundout, a sac fly to Al Kaline, a walk and then a groundout: P unassisted. Then he called it quits. 

Elston Howard dubbed him the Chairman of the Board and the name stuck. When his retirement was announced, his longtime manager Casey Stengel told longtime New York Daily News columnist Dick Young: “I'll tell you about Mr. Ford. He was quiet, egotistical and witty. He was my banty rooster. He'd stick out his chest, like this, and walk out on the mound against any of those big pitchers. They talk about the fall of the Yankees. Well, the Yankees would've fallen a lot sooner if it wasn't for my banty rooster.” 

He died Thursday night. Here's the Times obit

Posted at 04:58 AM on Saturday October 10, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday October 05, 2020

Ron Perranoski (1936-2020)

The above shot is from Camera Day, 1970, and Twins relief pitcher Ron Perranoski is asking me what was going on with my two missing front teeth. I was 7 and thought the world I encountered was the world as it had always been and always would be, so I remember almost a sense of betrayal when I found out Perranoski had been with the Dodgers earlier in the decade. And that he was better known for being a Dodger? What the? But he was. He led the league in saves two years as a Twin, but with the Dodgers in '63 he went 16-3 with a 1.67 ERA and saved Game 2 of the World Series against the Yankees that the Dodgers won in four. He appeared on a Chuck Conners' TV show. He pitched in the '65 Series against us and gave up some runs—mostly to opposing pitcher Jim Kaat, whose two-out single opened up Game 2 for him. And us. Before he became us. Every post-season after that he faced the Baltimore Orioles ('66 WS, '69 and '70 ALCS), that great Orioles team, one of the best of all time, and it was a tough row. His career ended in 1973, before free agency and increasing wealth, but he stayed in the game, first as a minor league pitching coach for the Dodgers organization, then as the Dodgers pitching coach, then as the San Francisco Giants pitching coach.

My older brother just reminded me that we did have another encounter with him. At Met Stadium we often sat on the wooden benches along the third base/left field side, but one game we wandered the stadium and wound up in the right field stands. We were right above the bullpen, where Perranoski sat with the other relievers. I don't know how he did it but my older brother wound up dropping his glove for Perranoski to sign, and when he pleaded that he was penless, Chris dropped a green marker, too. He signed it on the back of the finger side, in green ink, and my brother had it for years. I remember being very, very jealous.

Perranoski died Friday. I heard about it a day after Bob Gibson's death, which came on the heels of Gale Sayers' death, which came on the heels of the deaths of Lou Brock and Tom Seaver. That's just sports. A one-word tweet from SABR president Mark Armour after the news about Perranoski says it all: STOP! Amen.


Posted at 06:58 AM on Monday October 05, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday October 04, 2020

Bob Gibson (1935-2020)

I practically cried when I heard about this Friday night. Why in this awful year did this latest awful bit of news make me almost break down? Was it the pile-on aspect of it all—not just the horror of Trump, not just the horror of Covid, not just wildfire smoke blanketing my city, but the loss of so many towering figures: from John Prine to John Lewis; from Chadwick Boseman to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In the last month alone, in the world of sports alone, we've lost Tom Seaver, Lou Brock and Gale Sayers. It wears you down. I think of Shakespeare: When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions.

I also think it's partly this: Bob Gibson doesn't die. No. Bob Gibson stares you down and then comes at you. He brushes you inside. He plunks you in the ribs without a thought. He was so well-known for it, other players named the message pitch for him: 

So many stories. He brushed back Reggie Jackson in an Old-Timers game because the previous Old-Timers game Jackson had the temerity to hit a homerun off him. He was so competitive he wouldn't talk to fellow National Leaguers during the All-Star Game because they were the enemy and he didn't want to lose his edge. The New York Times obit mentions he lost two months of the 1967 season when a line drive off the bat of Roberto Clemente broke his leg, but not the fact that he kept pitching in that game for three more batters. He had a broken leg and kept pitching.

This may be my favorite Gibson story. I read it in the New York Times 25 years ago. It was for a department called “A Question for...” and this question went to Gibson's former battery mate Tim McCarver, who had since become a loquacious color announcer:

What's the most boring part of baseball?
When the pitcher gets on base and they stop the game to bring him a jacket—so the guy's arm won't get cold. That's boring. What does he need a jacket for? His arm's not going to get cold. Another boring part is the small talk a first baseman will make with a 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 [ first baseman ] 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.

I laughed so hard at that. By then, Ron Fairly had become our loquacious color announcer, so all the elements were perfect. Everyone acted as they do—Fairly gabbed, Gibson plunked—and the result was comedy. One wonders if Fairly got the message. I doubt it. I assume everyone kept acting the same. 

I didn't know all this at first. Gibson was in the NL, I was in an AL city, and I didn't start watching baseball really until 1969 or '70, a year or two after his great 1.12 ERA season, and the record-setting 17 Ks in the first game of the 1968 World Series. From 1964 to 1968 he won seven World Series games in a row, and for most of that he was unhittable. From Game 1 in '67 to Game 4 in '68 he started five games, completed five games, and went 5-0 with a 53-8 K/BB ratio and a 0.80 ERA. Yes, that's right: 0.80. In 45 innings, he gave up just four earned runs. The opposition batting average against him was .199. Sorry, that's the oppositiion on-base percentage. And in the most important games of the year. He dominated October—but the Octobers before I began to watch. The Cardinals didn't make the postseason when I was first watching. 

No, my first impression of him was via one of those story booklets that came with Topps baseball cards in 1970. Topps made 24 of them—one for each team?—and you got a bit of a player's life but without their personality, really. Everyone had the same personality. Think Bazooka Joe:

(Thanks to RoundtheDiamond87)

The Globetrotters thing was true, and so incongruous once you realized who he was. Later, I read a quote from him dismissing his time with the Globetrotters. He said there was too much “clowning around.” That, too, made me laugh.

I think I got to know his true personality via Roger Angell and Roger Kahn and Joe Posnanski. It was from the stories the other players told. In his countdown of the greatest 100 players of all time, Posnanski put Gibson at No. 45, in honor of his number, and because it kind of felt right. He tells a story about Gibson's older brother, LeRoy, called Josh for no apparent reason, that should be made into an HBO movie. 1947 opened doors for Black Americans, and Josh saw an opportunity for his kid brother, and drilled him every day in the basics to make sure when the time came he'd bust through those doors. “It wasn't a prophecy,” Posnanski writes. “It was an order.”

Poz also told the other stories, the stories that apparently Gibson tired of, because he felt it overshadowed the other aspects of his game. But that's what happens. Who can keep the whole equation in mind? Sometimes not even friends and family. Posnanski quotes advice that Hank Aaron gave to a young Dusty Baker about Gibson and turned it into a poem. Or it was already a poem and Poz just recognized it was and broke it into lines:

Don't dig in against Bob Gibson.
He'll knock you down.
He'd knock down his own grandmother.
Don't stare at him, don't smile at him, don't talk to him.
He doesn't like it.
If you happen to hit a home run, don't run too slow.
And don't run too fast.
If you want to celebrate, get in the tunnel first.
And if he hits you, don't charge the mound.
Because he's a Golden Gloves boxer.

Baker has his own beautiful quote about the man: “The only people I ever felt intimidated by in my whole life were Bob Gibson and my daddy.”

That's the sadness of it. Even Bob Gibson. He was 84.

Posted at 10:24 AM on Sunday October 04, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday September 28, 2020

Baseball's First Sweet Sixteen

Fun fact: Every one of the 10 teams that made the MLB playoffs last year has made the playoffs again this year with the exception of the team that won it all, the World Champion Washington Nationals, who finished with the third-worst record in the National League: 26-34. Karma for this, maybe?

I swear, everything that man touches turns to shit.

Another fun fact from this odd Covid season: 16 teams made the playoffs, and the playoff lineup includes not only nine of the 10 from last year but also some of the teams with the longest playoff droughts. A year ago, Sept. 29, 2019, I wrote the following:

After the M's, the longest MLB postseason droughts are the usual suspects: Marlins (2003), Padres (2006), and the White Sox (2008). Every other MLB team has gone to the postseason this decade. Every one. Think of that.

And guess what? Every one of those teams made the playoffs (yay!) except for the Mariners (of course). I don't know if it's a sign of how long we've been down, or excitement that we now have a fun young team, but I almost take consolation in the fact that we finished with the best record of any AL team that didn't make the playoffs. That said, there's now a huge gap between the M's and the next worst team on the playoff-drought list:

  1. Seattle Mariners (2001)
  2. Philadelphia Phillies (2011)
  3. Los Angels Angels, Detroit Tigers (2014)

What would this year's postseason look like under last year's rules? In the NL, Braves, Cubs and Dodgers win their divisions, while the one-game wild-card battle is between the Padres and ... a three-way tie for the second wild-card team (Marlins, Cards and Reds). The only team definitely out is the Brewers. In the AL, the picture would be clearer: Rays, Twins and A's win their divisions, while the White Sox and Indians battle for wild card. Gone are the Astros, Blue Jays and ... Yankees. Ooh, so close.

Playoffs start tomorrow. Cable-less, I'll have to try to find a way to watch.

Posted at 07:41 AM on Monday September 28, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday September 07, 2020

Lou Brock (1939-2020)

Tom Seaver four days ago and now Lou Brock? 2020 just takes and it takes and it takes.

Twenty-plus years ago, when I wrote a Star Trek novel for my friend Tim, I named the ship after his favorite baseball player: the U.S.S. Brock. I called it “the fastest ship in the galaxy,” but according to Joe Posnanski, in his tribute, Brock wasn’t really the fastest base stealer—just the smartest. He set the single-season stolen base record not when he was young but when he was 35. It was all about reading pitchers and going.

I just missed his World Series heyday. In the 1964 World Series against the Yankees, he hit .300 with two doubles and a homer, but that was piker stuff. Three years later, against the BoSox, he hit .414, slugged .655 and stole seven bases—a World Series record. 1968 looked to be even better. After five games, he was hitting .524 (11 for 21) and slugging 1.048, with two homers and—again—seven stolen bases. I caught up with these exploits when I read Roger Angell’s “The Summer Game.” His account of the ’68 Series is punctuated throughout with Brock stealing second before he writes this:

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.

But it was in the fifth game when things turned. The Cards were up three games to one, and leading this one 3-0 when Brock got caught stealing—the first time that had happened in any World Series. That’s right: He’d been 14 for 14. Cards were still up 3-2 when he hit a one-out double in the 5th and might have scored on a Julian Javier single but didn’t slide. He came up again in the 9th, two on, two out, down by two, and grounded out to end the game. The next game, a Tigers blowout, he went 1-4 with an error. Game 7 he went 1-3 but got picked off first. You can’t be golden all the time. Even so, if you’re doing an All-Star World Series team, he’s the guy you want.

He was signed by Buck O’Neill, chafed in a poorly run Cubs organization, and in one of the most lopsided deals in baseball history was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he prospered. Ernie Broglio, who nearly won a Cy Young in 1960 (21-9, 2.74 ERA), is known today as the guy the Cubs got for Brock. In Chicago, Broglio lasted three seasons and went 7-9 with a 5.40 ERA. Brock lasted 16 years in St. Louis, hit .297, stole 888 bases—for a lifetime total of 938—and became a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Do we say “Rest in peace” here or keep going? Read the pitcher and go.

Posted at 11:03 AM on Monday September 07, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday September 05, 2020

Tom Seaver (1944-2020)

Tom Seaver debuted around the same time I began to go to baseball games with my dad (1967), and his final year in the Majors was the year before I graduated college (1986), but I never got to see him pitch in person. I was in an American League city and he was a National League star. I guess his final three years werein the AL (ChiSox, BoSox), but by then the Twins were in a dome, I was in college, and I wasn’t paying much attention.

But man did he loom. Saying Tom Seaver died is like saying a piece of the sky is gone.

In 1969 my best friend Ben’s family moved east, to Leonia, New Jersey, and when I saw him again he was a Mets fan and couldn’t stop talking about Tom Seaver. I felt so betrayed. I think I resented Seaver for a time. Stupid pudgy face. He’s not so great. But he was. Rookie of the Year his first year, Cy Young his third, Cy again in ’73 and  ’75.

From ’69 to ’77, this is where he placed in Cy Young voting: first, second, seventh, fifth, first, nothing, first, eighth, third. During that time he led the league in wins twice, ERA twice, strikeouts five times, and WHIP three times. His bWAR for pitchers is seventh-highest all time (106), and the only guy above him who played after World War II is Roger Clemens, who carries his own baggage. Tom Terrific was clean-cut and clean. He just had tree-trunk legs. When he went into the Hall in ’92, it was with the highest vote percentage in history: 98.8%. Nobody surpassed it until Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016.

I just came across this controversy: When the Mets built Citi Field, they named the street after him (address: 41 Seaver Way) but there weren’t any statues. Most new ballparks have statues. Even old ballparks. Wrigley Field has statues for Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and announcer Harry Caray, but the Mets have none. Apparently this is being rectified now and it should. Seaver is the best player in Mets history and it’s not close. His bWAR while he was a Met is 78.8. Second best? David Wright, 49.2. Then Gooden at 46.4. No one else is within half of Seaver. 

The New York Times says Lewy body dementia with Covid complications. This fucking year, man.

Posted at 09:49 AM on Saturday September 05, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Friday August 07, 2020

Menand on Gehrig

I normally love Louis Menand's writing but his June article on baseball players and celebrity—specifically Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and PR man Christy Walsh*—was a little meh. Maybe a reader can know too much about a subject. Example: When Menand went into how baseball used to be small ball, a base at a time, before Ruth, I could feel my eyes glazing over. But I still learned a few things—chiefly that Gehrig got the nickname “The Iron Horse” from New York Sun columnist Will Wedge in 1931. I like those details.

(*How interesting that the name of Gehrig's PR man was a mashup of two of the best pitchers in the first decade of the 20th century. ... OK, interesting to me.)

But Menand's ending, about “the speech,” made me tear up:

The announcer told the crowd that Gehrig was too moved to say anything, but a chant went up, and so he walked to the microphone. Eleanor later said that he had written an outline just in case; he clearly had some sentences memorized. Amazingly, only four of those sentences have been recorded and survive. Versions of the whole speech that you read have been pieced together from newspaper stories.

But we do have Gehrig's voice at the start. “For the past two weeks, you've been reading about a bad break,” he says. “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” And at the end: “I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for.” There is nothing self-pitying in the speech, no self-denial, no defiance. He is helping other people get through his pain. This was not colorless or boring. This was a man looking at death. In an age of showmen, in the very House That Ruth Built, it was a transcendent moment of selflessness.

He is helping other people get through his pain. Holy hell that's good. 

Posted at 05:28 PM on Friday August 07, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday July 27, 2020

MLB Hits Covid Snag After 3 Games

This morning, when I heard that the Yankees-Phillies came was suspended because the Phils had been playing the Marlins and a Covid outbreak has been reported among players and coaches on the Marlins, I tweeted the following:

I blame Derek Jeter.

I was joking. Jeter is part owner and full-time corporate spokesman for the Marlins, not to mention my frequent bete noir, but I wasn't really blaming him. Half an hour later, he was trending because many fans were. So I deleted the tweet. You‘re welcome, Derek. 

How much do I want to watch baseball these days? Yesterday, I watched the Diamondbacks vs. the Padres. That’s how much I want to watch baseball. (Tyler Kepner chronicles some of the joys of that first weekend here.) I was even beginning to think that maybe I was wrong and the short season might work out after all. Here's what I wrote earlier this month:

Sorry, I just can't see it working. What if a player contracts Covid during the season? How long must he be in quarantine? How long will his team be in quarantine and what will that do to the schedule? Do they forfeit games? Do they try to make them up? What if this happens during the World Series? And imagine if a player dies. The U.S. is currently averaging 50k confirmed cases a day. Just don't see it working. Hope I'm wrong.

I wanted to be wrong.

The worst part of the report—and one of the reasons many were angry at Jeter—is that some players tested positive yesterday and played the game anyway. WTF? What protocols has MLB put in place? Is there no one in charge of this ride? Craig Calcaterra has a good short piece about the confusion on NBC Sports, “Derek Jeter's statement about the Marlins COVID-19 outbreak raises more questions,” and he begins it by quoting CEO Jeter:

The health of our players and staff has been and will continue to be our primary focus as we navigate through these uncharted waters.

Calcaterra then adds this graf, which is about the smartest graf I‘ve seen about corporate America in years:

The “____ is our top priority” form of corporate statement is always — always — deployed when the thing the business is claiming to be its top priority has been manifestly compromised. If a plane crashes, “safety is our top priority.” If employees are mistreated, “the well-being of our workers is our top priority.” If there’s a chemical or oil spill, “responsible environmental practices are our top priority.” It's become such a cliche that it's hard to take that bit of businesspeak even remotely seriously.

If you're on Twitter, follow Craig Calcaterra.

I still want to be wrong.

Posted at 12:55 PM on Monday July 27, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Tuesday July 07, 2020

‘Sports Are the Reward of a Functioning Society’

“We‘re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people. We‘re way worse off as a country than where we were in March when we shut this thing down. And look at where other developed countries are in their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functional society, and we‘re trying to just bring it back, even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve.

We did flatten the curve for a little bit, but we didn't use that time to do anything productive. We just opened back up for Memorial Day. We decided we‘re done with it. Like, if there aren’t sports, it's gonna be because people are not wearing masks because the response to this has been so politicized.

“We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands. We can't just have virus fatigue and think, ‘Well, it’s been four months. We‘re over it. This has been enough time, right? We’ve waited long enough, shouldn't sports come back now?'”

— Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle, on the third day of MLB camp, speaking the truth in a way few in the media do. He nails it all: 1) We‘re worse off than in March because, 2) we (particularly Trump) didn’t do anything productive during that time, but 3) we felt like 3-4 months is enough so party on, Wayne. This is how America ends: Not with a bang but with a kegger.

Posted at 09:39 AM on Tuesday July 07, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday July 06, 2020

Opening Day 2020: Your Active Leaders

  • SLIDESHOW: Sorry, I just can't see it working. What if a player contracts Covid during the season? How long must he be in quarantine? How long will his team be in quarantine and what will that do to the schedule? Do they forfeit games? Do they try to make them up? What if this happens during the World Series? And imagine if a player dies. The U.S. is currently averaging 50k confirmed cases a day. Just don't see it working. Hope I'm wrong. In the meantime, we‘ll always have stats. Here’s MLB's active leaders.  

  • BATTING AVERAGE: For the sixth year in a row, it's Miggy. He's at .3146 while Jose Altue is a tidge below at .3145. Oddly, Miggy had that .0001 advantage last season as well but they both fell off at the same pace. There are currently 10 active players with career BAs over .300 but for the first time since 2001 one of them is not named Albert Pujols. His eighth season in a row below .300, and fourth overall below .250, finally knocked his career mark to .299. For the record, Miggy's .3146 is 70th all-time, just behind Lew Fonseca.

  • ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: We‘re about to see a changing of this guard. Joey Votto has been the active leader in OBP since 2013, but last season he posted the worst OBP of his career: .357. True, his OBP over the last four seasons is still .418, and only one other active player is over .400, but that one is Mike Trout, who, over the last four seasons, has an OBP of .445. Right now it’s Votto .421 to Trout's .419. Expect change.

  • SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Speaking of: Trout's at .581 and no one else is over .550. Can Trout reach .600 career? At least for a time? Maybe. His numbers for the last three seasons: .629, .628 and .645.

  • OPS: Again, it's Trout and no one else. He's at .999 while the second-place finisher is Joey Votto 60 points back at .940. The other five active players above .900 are: Miggy (.935), Albert (.927), Paul Goldschmidt (.915), Giancarlo (.905) and Kris Bryant (.900).

  • GAMES: Only eight players have ever played 3,000 career games (Rose, Yaz, Hank, Rickey, Ty, Stan, Eddie, Cal), but Uncle Albert might join them. He's 177 games short at 2,823 with two years left on his contract. OK, one and a half. Only three other actives have played in more than 2,000 games: Miggy at exactly 2,400, Cano at 2,185 and Nick Markakis at 2,117.  

  • HITS: Same four, same order: Albert (3,202), Cabrera (2,815), Cano (2,570) and Nick Markakis (2,355). Miggy has a shot at three-thou if he stays healthy (he stopped hitting for power last season but didn't stop hitting), while Markakis has never had 200 hits in a season but seems a few good seasons from knocking on 3,000. Has that ever happened? A player with no 200-hit seasons but 3,000 career? Just looked it up. These guys: Cap Anson, Carl Yastrzemski, Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray and Rickey Henderson.

  • DOUBLES: Pujols is seventh all-time with 661, and just 8 more would put him past Brett and Biggio into fifth place. Only four guys have ever hit 700: Speaker, Rose, Cobb, Musial. Can Albert reach that? He's hit 42 over the last two seasons, but between age and Covid I'm not sure. Miggy's got 577, Cano 562.

  • TRIPLES: With Curtis Granderson retiring, Dexter Fowler takes over as the active leader in triples with 82. When was the last time the active leader in triples had so few? 1883. When a dude named Tom York had 80. Here's a nice bar bet: Name the 4 active leaders in triples. After Fowler it's Brett Gardner (huh), then Dee Gordon (I can see that), who is tied with ... Hunter Pence??? Those are the only guys with more than 50. Somewhere, Wahoo Sam sheds a tear.

  • HOMERUNS: Pujols (656) is set to pass Willie Mays (660) for fifth on the all-time list, while Miggy is second on the actives with 477. Last season two guys hit their 400th: Edwin Encarnacison, 414, and my man Nellie Cruz, 401. The only other guys above 300 career are Ryan Braun (344), Robinson Cano (324), Jay Bruce (312) and Giancarlo Stanton (308). Yeah, Jay Bruce. Who knew?   

  • RBIs: One more RBI, just one, and Pujols moves past Cap Anson (2,075) and into sole possession of 4th place on the all-time list. A dozen more and he moves past A-Rod (2,086) for third. Then it gets trickier. At that point he‘ll be 127 from tying Babe Ruth and 210 from Hank Aaron. How does it feel to be among the gods? I guess tiring. 

  • RUNS: He’s less godlike on the runs scored at 1,828 or 17th all-time. Then it's the usual active suspects: Miggy (1,429), Cano (1,234) and Markakis (1,104). Mike Trout, the young buck,  is currently 16th among actives with 903 after just nine seasons. Nice ratio. The record is Rickey Henderson: 2,295.

  • BASES ON BALLS: I used to think Albert had a greating batting eye but it looks like he walked so much because pitchers were afraid of him. Now they‘re not. In St. Louis he averaged 89 walks per season; with the Angels, 43. Yes, his plate appearances are down, but only slightly: 676 vs. 600. His intentional walks are way down. In 2009 he was IBBed 44 times. Last season, once. But he’s still on top here with 1,322 career. Then it's Votto (1,180) and Miggy (1,135). They‘re the only active players with more than 1,000.

  • STRIKEOUTS: Since Mark Reynolds retired in April, his 1,927 career Ks (9th all-time) is no longer topping our list. Now the honor goes to Chris Davis, whose 1,835 is 18th all-time. Justin Upton is second in actives Ks with 1,798, Miggy third with 1,761. Observation: There was a time when the active leader in K’s was a sure HOFer: Ruth, Foxx, Ott, Mantle, Killebrew, Stargell, Jackson. Now it's just as likely to be a Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn or Chris Davis.

  • STOLEN BASES: Ichiro's retired, Jose Reyes and Jacoby Ellsbury are unsigned, and Rajai Davis is ... who knows? So the active leader is the Seattle Mariners' own Dee Gordon with 330. When was the last time the active leader had that few? 1963, when Luis Aparicio had 309. Then Maury Wills zipped past him as active leader before passing the baton to Lou Brock, who passed it onto Campy, and onto Joe Morgan, and onto, yeah, Rickey who owned it for a while. SBs are sadly not a thing anymore. Even Billy Hamilton is slowing down.   

  • GROUNDED INTO DOUBLE PLAYS: The active leader is the all-time leader, Albert with 395. He's 45 ahead of Cal Ripken on the all-time chart and 77 ahead of Miggy on the active list. Then, for active players, it's Cano (277), Yadier (254), Markakis (209), Zimmerman (203).  

  • DEFENSIVE WAR: I have issues with this stat. Andrelton Simmons has 26.7 dWAR after eight seasons while Yadier Molina is second with 25.0 after 16 seasons? Is eight seasons of the best defensive shortstop really worth 16 of the best defensive catcher? You try crouching all day. They‘re also the only actives > 20. Hell, Andrelton is 14th all-time in this category. He just passed Gary Carter and Bob Boone. I guess?

  • WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: What’s a good bWAR cutoff for the Hall? Seems about 70. It's cuspy there: Gary Carter, Barry Larkin, Ron Santo. There are first-ballot guys below you (Tony Gwynn, 69.2) and underrated guys ahead of you (Bobby Grich, 71.1; Lou Whitaker 75.1). But you‘ll definitely be in the conversation. Albert’s in, of course, at 100.8. Trout, too: 72.8. I assume Miggy (69.5) is in for the counting numbers and triple crowns and MVPs. His black ink is 43 vs. 27 for a typical HOFer. Cano (68.0) takes a ding for testing positive for banned substances and for being low on black ink numbers (1). 

  • WINS: Will C.C. Sabathia be the last pitcher to notch 250 career wins or will Justin Verlander, the active leader at 225, bust that mark? He led the Majors last year with 21, and another year like that and he's a cinch. But he's 37 and the cliff can come fast. Second on the active list is Zack Greinke with 205. Then it's Jon Lester (190), Max Scherzer (170) and Clayton Kershaw (169). The probably-done Felix Hernandez also has 169. 

  • ERA: In the last two seasons, Kershaw posted ERAs of 2.73 and 3.03 and his career mark went down: from 2.36 to 2.44. When was the last time his career ERA went down two years in a row? It's never happened. But he's still way up on top here. Second is Jacob deGrom with a shockingly good 2.62. Third is Chris Sale with 3.02. Who was the last starting pitcher to retire with a career ERA under 3.00? Jim Palmer maybe? Anyone? 

  • STRIKEOUTS: Justin Verlander nudged over the 3,000 mark at the end of last season and leads the active parade with 3,006. He also has only 850 walks. Back in the day, the only pitcher with > 3,000 Ks and < 1,000 BBs was Fergie Jenkins. In the last two decades, he was joined by Maddux, Shilling, Pedro. Could JV make it an even five? Maybe. (Last season he gave up 42 freebies.) Second and third in active Ks are neck and neck: Scherzer/Greinke: 2,692/2,622. Both are in the 600s in walks. 

  • BASES ON BALLS: JV's 850, followed by Ubaldo Jiminez's 848 (if he still counts) and then Jon Lester's 820. The last time the active leader had fewer than 850 BBs? When Walter Johnson had 845 in 1920.

  • INNINGS PITCHED: Verlander needs two complete games to get to 3,000. He's at 2,982. He‘ll be the 137th guy to do it. Greinke’s not far behind. Then it's Felix (if he returns), Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer. The most IPs for someone in their 20s? Madison Bumgarner with 1,846. He's 29, though, and 30 on August 1. 

  • COMPLETE GAMES: Every year of the 20th century some pitcher threw double-digit CGs. Every year. Then the calendar flipped and the CGs just disappeared. It's like in John Updike's “Rabbit Is Rich” when the ‘70s turn into the ’80s and disco just goes POOF. In the 21st century, only two pitchers have thrown double-digit CGs: C.C. in 2008 (10) and James Shields in 2011 (11). Now it's hardly a stat. Who led the league in CGs last season? Two pitchers tied with 3: Rookies Lucas Giolito and Shane Bieber. The active leader is JV with 27—only 722 behind all-time leader Cy Young.  

  • SHUTOUTS: As recently as the ‘90s the active leader (Nolan Ryan) had 60+. As recently as the 2000s the active leader (Roger Clemens) had 40+. Now it’s Clayton Kershaw's 15, and he's been stuck on 15 since 2016. The only other active pitcher w/double digits (if Felix doesn't count) is Adam Wainwright with 10. All-time leader is Walter Johnson with 110. 

  • SAVES: Top 3 are Craig Kimbrel (346), Kenley Jansen (301) and Aroldis Chapman (273). 24-year-old Roberto Osuna is in 7th place with 154. 25-year-old Edwin Diaz is in 12th place with 137. He ran into same issues last season, though. I still miss him. 

  • WAR FOR PITCHERS: Usual suspects: Verlander (72.1), Greinke (65.9), Kershaw (65.3). Are they all HOFers or is the jury still out on Greinke? What about the dude in fourth place: Cole Hamels (58.5). What if he has 3-4 more seasons like his 3.2 WAR season last year? Nah. Like Cano, not enough black ink. 

  • EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW): Be safe, everybody. *FIN*
Posted at 06:52 AM on Monday July 06, 2020 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  
All previous entries

Twitter: @ErikLundegaard