A Bum by Fluke

December 17, 2014
our radio looked a lot like this.

our radio looked a lot like this.

As most people who actually take time to sit and read the things I write know, I’m a Dodgers fan; have been since I was a little kid. Glen asked me a couple of times how, in a house and area full of Cardinals fans, I became a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. I’d like to say it was some kind of grand epiphany or a youthful show of wisdom. Well, it wasn’t. Actually it was something of a fluke.

When I was little my grandfather and I listened to baseball on a radio, either the one at home, or on weekends at the local barber shop. He was a diehard Cardinals fan who lived and died with the Cards and the stats of Stan Musial. I knew this and appreciated it, but something changed at World Series time. He began to root for the Dodgers. In 1952 he died a little when they lost to New York, then died a little more when they lost in 1953. He was up front about rooting for the Dodgers, so I figured it was OK too. I wasn’t quite sure why you changed teams at World Series time, but that was the way of the world, at least my little part of it. Because when you went to the barber shop at World Series time everyone was rooting for the Dodgers.

In 1954 the Giants went to the World Series along with the Indians. My grandfather listened and commented, but there was no real rooting going on. If the Indians won, fine; if the Giants won, better (it was a National League town). Then in 1955 we got a television. It was  small, black and white, the reception went in an out and I remember my grandfather standing outside holding the antenna pole while my grandmother would shout, “A little more to the right” until the picture cleared up. When World Series time came the Dodgers were back in and this time they won. There was rejoicing in my home and at the barber shop. And there was equal sadness when they lost again in 1956.

By then I was a dyed-in-the-wool Dodgers fan. Everyone seemed to think the Cardinals was the team to support, but the Dodgers were a close second. So I figured that “well, heck, if the Cardinals have number one support and the Dodgers are OK too, maybe someone should help out by making the Dodgers the number one team with the Cards in second place.” So I decided that would be me.

Then came 1957 and the Braves made the World Series. My grandfather rooted for them as hard as he’d rooted for the Dodgers. The guys at the barber shop rooted for them as hard as they’d rooted for the Dodgers. Something was wrong and it took a while to figure it out. The common denominator in all the World Series matchups, except the “who cares?” Series of 1954 was the New York Yankees. My grandfather and his cronies weren’t Dodgers fans at all; they hated the Yankees, and anyone playing the Yanks in the Series was to be supported. When the same thing happened in 1958 I was sure I was right.

But by then it was too late. I was a Dodgers fan with a willingness to root for St. Louis if necessary (sort of the opposite of my grandfather). So that, little children, is how a person from a Cardinals family and Cardinals town becomes a Dodgers fan. Maybe someday I’ll tell you why my son supports the Twins.

RIP Sy Berger

December 15, 2014

NBC News is running a story on the death of Sy Berger. You probably never heard of him. I certainly hadn’t. But he’s important to every baseball fan. He invented the modern baseball card.

Apparently in the 1950s he worked for Topps and came up with the idea of putting six cards in a pack with a stick of gum. Baseball cards weren’t new, but they weren’t common and you didn’t get six with a stick of gum for a nickel. He sat at his table at home and created the first ones using scissors and cardboard. He put stats on the back, a short bio, the team logo went on the front, and of course there was a picture of the player on the front. His most famous card is the 1952 Mickey Mantle.

Berger was 91 when he died yesterday. Anyone who collected baseball cards owes him a debt. I still have a handful. I think I’ll take a look at a few of them, but I won’t miss the gum. The gum was awful, the cards sublime. RIP, Sy, and thanks.

2015 Frick Award Announced

December 10, 2014
Dick Enberg

Dick Enberg

The Baseball Hall of Fame just announced that longtime broadcaster Dick Enberg is the 2015 Ford Frick Award winner. The Frick Award is given to a distinguished broadcaster for his work. Enberg broadcasts Padres games. He’s also well known for his work on CBS television in basketball, football, and tennis.

Other than the January 2015 Hall of Fame balloting, this concludes MLB’s postseason awards and honors.

2015 Spink Award Announced

December 9, 2014
Tom Gage

Tom Gage

MLB has announced that Tom Gage of the Detroit News is the winner of the 2015 J.G. Taylor Spink Award. The Spink Award is given annually to a print writer who covers baseball and is worthy of remembering. The winner has his picture placed in the Hall of Fame (near the library), but is not technically a member of the Hall of Fame. The Frick Award for broadcasting is to be announced tomorrow.

 

2015 Veteran’s Committed Strikes the Side Out

December 8, 2014

The Hall of Fame just announced that no person on the 2015 Veteran’s Committee ballot received enough votes for election to the Hall. Apparently Tony Oliva and Dick Allen both received 11 votes. All others received 10 (Jim Kaat) or fewer votes. Twelve votes were needed for election. The Spink and Frick Awards are to be announced the next two days. Hopefully someone will win each.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Year in Review

December 3, 2014
Bill Lange

Bill Lange

As mentioned in the last post, I want to share my thoughts on what I’ve learned (or maybe didn’t learn) from trying to create a Hall of Fame beginning in 1901. Let me remind you that I’m trying to figure out, based on what information was available in 1901-1910, who would have made a Hall of Fame that was started before the current one. I submit it would be quite different. This is kinda lengthy, so you might want to get your popcorn and drink now.

Got it all? Then here’s some of what I’ve  learned.

1. It was a lot harder than I thought. I expected to be able to read over a few Reach Guides sample some newspaper and journal articles and then come up with a very easy set of Hall of Fame candidates. Oops. The information is really spotty (although the closer you get to 1910 era players the better it gets) and the stats are all over the place. Some stats that we find common (RBI, ERA) are not so common in the age. And those that are common tend to vary from one source to another. Without giving a specific example, some sources show a player with one number for a stat while another source will show a different number for the same stat. With hitters this tends to occur more with stats like walks and strikeouts than with runs and doubles. For pitchers even the number of wins varies. Cy Young goes from 517 (highest number I found) to 502 (lowest I found). Either of those will still probably get him in (did I actually just type “probably” about Young?), but it’s a problem with players who have more modest numbers.

2. Already the early years of baseball are so vague as to be almost lost. By 1910 the National Association is only a foggy memory and the era before the Association is really shadowy. There’s stuff available but it’s a lot a hearsay and there’s a lot of wishful thinking about what “grandpa told me” in the evidence. So it makes it difficult to find out what 1901 writers and baseball fans thought of players and pioneers like Lip Pike or Bob Ferguson or if they even knew who they were. And by 1910, the American Association had been defunct for almost 20 years. It, like the National Association, seems to be largely forgotten.

3. The “Derek Jeter Aura” already existed. There is a particular aura about some players that makes them almost more mythological than real when we view them as players. I call this the “Derek Jeter Aura” because he’s one of the players that has it. You’ll see me use it as BABE RUTH!!! or SANDY KOUFAX!!! when I want to distinguish the myth from the player. Babe Ruth had it. So did Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Sandy Koufax has it as does Jeter (obviously). In the 1901-10 era it exists for Christy Mathewson. Cy Young doesn’t have it, neither does Walter Johnson (but Johnson has his best years after 1910). There’s a variant I call ”The Dizzy Dean Aura” which adds in a “colorful” element such as mangling of the English language as part of the mythology. Yogi Berra is another obvious example of that.  John McGraw has it and Connie Mack doesn’t (but that has a lot to do with which is in New York). McGraw’s is different because it has more to do with his managing than with his playing (and to carry this a step further, Casey Stengel has it and Joe McCarthy doesn’t). And of course Jackie Robinson has it for a very different reason.

4. I’m telling you number three for a couple of reasons. First, I think the Aura effect is important in understanding how all of us, including writers who vote for the Hall of Fame, look at ball players. Secondly, it is creating a huge problem for me, actually two. By 1910 John McGraw’s managerial Aura is so great that it seems some places don’t know he ever played the game. It’s as if God smote the dugout in New York and when the smoke cleared there stood a fully formed John McGraw in Giants uniform and blessed with all baseball knowledge. This is a problem because in 1912 McGraw becomes eligible for My Own Little Hall of Fame as a player. And suddenly I can’t figure out if McGraw would  have a chance to be elected on his playing merits. I can always wait until he’s eligible as a manager (1933) but that’s really quite a cop-out and I’d prefer not to use it. And finally, Bill Lange has the Aura. You’ve probably never heard of him, but he played for the Colts (Cubs) in the 1890s then retired to become an actuary because his fiancé’s father was one (an actuary) and wouldn’t let his daughter marry a ball player, which in itself says something about the reputation of ball players. But Lange has the Aura in 1910 (it’s since largely gone away–a century will do that to you). Now normally I wouldn’t consider Lange a Hall of Fame candidate (and because he only played nine years the real Hall won’t look at him) but there must have been something about him that created the Aura and guys with “The Aura” tend to get in. So I’m looking him over very closely (check out his stats yourself) to see if I can figure it out. I will let you know. And I’ve seen his name spelled without the ending “e” so I presume it was silent (but not sure).

5. Here’s the list of everyday players I’m considering for 1911. Unlike the real Hall, they don’t fall off after 15 years (but if the list gets too long, they will): Jesse Burkett, Cupid Childs, Gene DeMontreville, Jack Doyle, George Gore, Paul Hines, Dummy Hoy, Charley Jones, Bill Joyce, Bill Lange, Arlie Latham, Andy Leonard, Herman Long, Tommy McCarthy, Cal McVey, Dave Orr, Hardy Richardson, Mike Tiernan, George Van Haltren.

Nice list, right? Burkett and Doyle are the new guys added for 1911 and Burkett has a pretty good shot at making it. The rest make a nice list of really good players for their era. Don’t know that any of them are HofF quality, but I keep going over them. You’ll note that Lange (mentioned in 4, above, is there) and McGraw is among the players coming on in 1912.

6. Here’s the list of pitchers: Bob Caruthers, Dave Foutz, Brickyard Kennedy, Bobby Mathews, Tony Mullane, Gus Weyhing, Will White.

Again, nice list, right? But again, not really special. I admit I’m having trouble with Mullane because of his attitude towards Fleet Walker and integration. I’m trying to dismiss it when I look over Mullane, but I know it’s on the back burner somewhere. Kid Nichols shows up in 1912 and is the first shoo-in of the next year.

7. And now the contributors, divided into categories:

National Association players and really old-time players: Jim Creighton, Candy Cummings, Bob Ferguson, Lip Pike, George Stovey (Negro Leagues pitcher)

Pioneers: Doc Adams, William V. Babcock, William R. Wheaton

Others: John “Bud” Hillerich (the bat guy), Henry C. Pulliam (NL President), Al Reach (owner), Chris von der Ahe (owner)

And in 1912 Henry Chalmers of Chalmers Award fame shows up. It’s a mixed group and in many ways the hardest to get a grip on. Most are quite shadowy and some are kind of out of left field (like Hillerich, Chalmers, and Babcock maybe), but I want to research them. I think a couple of them ought to be in the real Hall (Reach, Adams) and Cummings probably shouldn’t be, but in 1910 it is something of a different story. Cummings shows up in more stuff than I expected, but the non-players really are lost. Modern research has brought many of them back to us in a way the 1910 crowd didn’t know. And Pulliam’s suicide was first page news a lot of places. The reaction, particularly in New York where John T. Brush (Giants owner) was blamed for a lot of it, might have gotten Pulliam a Hall nod. I’ll have to think on that very carefully. And before anyone points it out, I know that Pike, Ferguson, and Cummings all played in the NL, but I lumped them in with Creighton because all of them seem to have had their finest years prior to 1871. Stovey, of course, couldn’t play in either the NA or the NL.

8. I’ve finally begun to make some headway on umpires. I have some names of particularly well-regarded umpires of the 1800s and early 1900s, but I’m still trying to figure out why Ump A is better than Ump B. Expect some to show up on the contributors list, but don’t expect much in the way of election in the near future.

9. Negro League players are few at this point (Stovey), but will begin picking up in the mid-1920s as records improve for black ball players. I’m sure someone is being left out, but I just can’t find him. A lot of great black players are, in 1911, either just beginning their career (Louis Santop) or are in mid-career (Rube Foster, John Henry Lloyd being examples). Again, I know I’m going against the grain of the era, but it’s my hall and my rules let them in.

10. So far I’ve let 37 people, not all players, into my hall. That’s 3.7 per year and I’ve probably moved too many too quickly, so be prepared for a slowdown in the next several months. I do note that the real Hall let in 38 in their first 10 years, so maybe I’m not so off pace, but I want to err on the side of caution.

11. The biggest single problem is something I mentioned in relation to Mullane. I used to teach history at the university level a long time ago and one of the biggest problems I had was dealing with students who thought like late 20th Century Americans rather than 19th Century Americans (or 16th Century Germans or 1st Century Romans) and couldn’t make the stretch back to the appropriate era. I know a lot more about the guys I’m considering enshrining than many of the writers of the day. I know Mullane had a race problem. I also know that I’m thinking like a 21st Century American when Mullane’s race problem bothers me and I further know that the writers of 1910 thought more like Mullane than they did me (which is not to imply they were all racists). I know George Gore’s OPS. There was no OPS in 1910 for the writers to know. So I have to watch both personal preferences that are culturally related (Mullane) as well as the new statistical information that is available (Gore) when doing this. And I’ve found both to be difficult. But like Catherine the Great who had a dozen affairs in search of true love, I’m in there trying.

 

 

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1910

December 1, 2014

And now for the final installment of My Own Little Hall of Fame for this year. I’m doing this a little different this month. I’ll tell you who I’m adding and why they made it, but I’m saving most of my comments for a later post. I want to spend some time explaining what I’ve learned from this process and how it affects how I’m going to do it next year and the next, which should be the final year as it will take me to about the time the actual Hall opened. Here we go:

Addie Joss

Addie Joss

Adrian “Addie” Joss was a star pitcher for the Cleveland Naps until his untimely death. He led the American League in Earned Run Average twice, in wins once and produced a .623 winning percentage. He also pitched a no-hitter.

Monte Ward

Monte Ward

John Montgomery “Monte” Ward arrived in the as a pitcher. He pitched a no-hitter and led the National League in Earned Run Average as a rookie. The next season he led the league in both wins and strikeouts. Switching to the infield he became a superior shortstop. Later, he served as a manager and executive.

Now the commentary.

1. I was surprised how much Joss was admired in the era. There is almost universally positive press after his death. Much of that is to be expected, but to me it seemed to go deeper than just saying the standard “he was a hail fellow, well met” type of fluff that usually shows up in eulogies (and hopefully my own will have some kind things to say). I decided that the outpouring of good will would have probably gotten him an exemption to the five-year rule and he might have been elected to a 1910 Hall of Fame very easily. He seems to have been not only a quality pitcher, but genuinely admired. I’m not sure, if I were a voter in the period when Joss was elected, I would have voted for him, but Joss is one of those guys that I’m fairly sure would make an early Hall of Fame, but am not so sure he’d get into a later one (remember, it was very late when he made the real Hall).

2. Say, didn’t you forget something about Ward? Something about a union, maybe? Nope. I purposefully left out the Brotherhood. In the stuff I found on Ward there tended to be a great separation between how contemporaries saw him as a ballplayer and how they saw him as a rabble rousing union organizer (and the idea of Ward as a “rabble rouser” is a bit absurd to start with). It’s an age in which labor unions are not well liked (to put it mildly–you should read some of the comments on them), but Ward seems to have found a niche that set the union at a different level from his playing, managing, and executive work. Some of you might remember that he owned the Giants (co-owner), but that was later. Also his Federal League work hadn’t occurred yet. It seems to me that there is a short period of time in which Ward might have been elected to an existing Hall of Fame, after the Brotherhood memory had begun to fade and before he began to have trouble as an owner and assisted in forming the Federal League. I took advantage of that to put in a man who truly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

3. Something interesting I found is that ERA isn’t all that well-known in 1911 and when it is it is frequently spelled out (Earned Run Average) rather than abbreviated (ERA). So I did it that way for this post. My guess is that spelling it out helped explain it to people who’d never heard of it (that’s a guess).

4. I could find nothing referring to a perfect game as a “perfect game.” No hitter” showed up, so I decided to err on the side of caution and use no-hitter for this. I may have missed the first reference, so don’t take it to the bank that “perfect game” didn’t show up until after 1910.

Other comments to follow. These will be more in the nature of a look back at a year of doing this.

My Picks for the 2015 Hall of Fame Vote

November 28, 2014

Every year I post, once the Hall of Fame ballot comes out, my choices for the Hall of Fame. As the Hall gives each voter 10 votes, I, in the grand tradition of Southern Politics, take every vote I can get. So I always vote for 10, knowing many fewer will make it. But I look at it this way, it’s a chance to produce my “Jim DeShaies Vote”. For those of you who don’t remember, DeShaies was a Houston pitcher who played long enough to get on the Hall of Fame ballot. He worked in broadcasting and in 2001 started a campaign to get a vote for the Hall. He got exactly one.

Knowing that half of you are having major heart palpitations and breathing problems waiting breathlessly (see what I mean about breathing problems?) for my announcement, here we go, in alphabetic order new guys first and holdovers later.

1. Randy Johnson–if you don’t know why, you haven’t been paying attention.

2. Pedro Martinez–see Johnson above.

3. John Smoltz–Smoltz was the third of the great Atlanta triumvirate (Maddux and Glavine being the others) of the 1990s. Unlike the other two he didn’t win 300 games. He did, however, produce 154 saves. With Atlanta usually having bullpen problems, Smoltz gave up his starter role and spent a bit more than three seasons working as the closer (primarily 2002-2004 and much of 2001 in the same role) . He led the NL in saves one of those years (2002). Later he went back to starting and led the NL in wins. He has a Cy Young Award. A couple of injuries and the three + years in the bullpen cost him a shot at 300 wins. I’d vote for him anyway.

Now the holdovers:

4. Jeff Bagwell–premier first baseman in the 1990s and into the first decade of the 21st Century. Won an MVP in strike shortened 1994. Hit 449 home runs with 1529 RBIs in a 15 year career. Had nine seasons of 5+ WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) and two others just under five. His OPS+ is 149. He suffers from the taint of being a good power hitter in the steroid era.

5. Craig Biggio–teammate of Bagwell at Houston. Has 3000 hits, is fifth in career doubles (behind Speaker, Rose, Musial, and Cobb). Early in his career he was thrown out stealing a lot, but got much better as his career progressed. Led the NL in steals in 1994. He began as a catcher, moved to the outfield, and to second base. Many times a player is moved to hide his glove; in Biggio’s case he moved to fill a hole. He led the NL in both putouts and assists several times. His OPS+ is 112 and his WAR 65.1.

6. Edgar Martinez–Martinez is arguably the best DH ever. Baseball gives out an annual award for the best DH. In 2004, the award was named for Martinez. He won the award five times (David Ortiz has won it seven times). He won two batting titles, along with two doubles and one RBI title. His OPS+ is 147 and his WAR is 68.3 (despite spending almost no time in the field). Unlike a lot of people, I don’t degrade a player because he is a DH. If you think about it, most players are truly one-dimensional (pitchers generally don’t hit well, many hitters are terrible fielders) and by this time, the DH is so firmly established in the American League that I can’t imagine it being deleted any time soon. That being the case, I think we have to acknowledge the contribution of the DH.

7. Don Mattingly–It’s Mattingly’s last year on the ballot and I’ve voted for him every year so I’m not about to stop now. I know the career is short, but it is centered around a very high peak. His OPS+ is 127 and his WAR 42.2. He has a batting title, two hits titles, an RBI title, three doubles titles, and an MVP. He also hit .417 with a home run and six RBIs in his only postseason experience. And before anyone asks, I was supporting him long before he began managing the Dodgers.

8. Mike Piazza–Speaking of the Dodgers, I never thought I’d be able to say that it’s possible the greatest Dodgers catcher wasn’t Roy Campanella. But Piazza makes that a true possibility. One of the best hitting catchers, he was chided for not being a particularly good throwing catcher. That’s a particular problem when Campanella is the all time leader in caught stealing percentage (Piazza’s 23% isn’t in the top 400). But Piazza was Rookie of the Year, led the NL in OPS+ twice, hit 427 home runs, has an OPS+ of 143 and a 59.4 WAR (BTW his defensive WAR isn’t all that good, but it’s seldom a negative). He’s never going to get into the Hall on his fielding (few do) but he may be the best hitting catcher ever. As with Bagwell, the steroid era problems create difficulties in electing him.

9. Tim Raines–Raines is arguably the finest leadoff hitter in NL history. He won a batting title, led the league in runs four times, in doubles once, and picked up four stolen base titles. He had the misfortune of playing at the same time as Rickey Henderson and that’s always hurt his chances to be seen independently. There’s also a nomad phase to the end of his career that is fairly lengthy and pulls down a lot of his numbers. And then, of course, there’s the lupus issue that cost him a year and the drug problem that has hampered his case. He finished with a 123 OPS+ and 69.1 WAR.

10. Alan Trammel–You can easily argue that Trammell is the best shortstop in Detroit history. He helped the 1984 team to a World Series, then won the Series MVP. He finished second in the 1987 MVP race and garnered 12 first place votes in the process. As a shortstop he almost never led the AL in any major fielding stat, but was generally well into the upper half of the league in fielding. His OPS is 110 and his WAR is 70.4 (22.0 defensive WAR).

Who am I leaving out? Actually a lot of guys. Without picking any of the steroid boys, there’s still a lot of interesting names on this ballot. At various times I’ve touted the case for Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff, Larry Walker, and Jeff Kent. Now I can add in Nomar Garciaparra as someone I’d like to take a longer look at for addition to the Hall.

There you go, team. Now you pick ‘em.

 

2015 Hall of Fame Ballot is Out

November 25, 2014

The BBWA Hall of Fame ballot was just released. There are 17 guys remaining from the old ballot. Here’s that list:

Biggio, Piazza, Bagwell, Raines, Clemens, Bonds, Lee Smith, Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Trammell, Mussina, Kent, McGriff, McGwire, Walker, Mattingly, Sosa.

And here’s the list of the 17 new guys appearing for the first time:

Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Smoltz, Delgado, Sheffield, Garciaparra, Percival, Aurilia, Aaron Boone, Tony Clark, Dye, Erstad, Floyd, Giles, Tom Gordon, Guardado, Jason Schmidt.

The holdover list is in order of votes in the 2014 balloting. The new list is in the order I found it on NBC News website. My take later.

Happy Birthday, Joltin’ Joe

November 25, 2014
the birthday boy

the birthday boy

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Joe DiMaggio. That seems like as good a reason as any to celebrate baseball.

Happy Birthday, Joe.


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