110 Years On

January 5, 2018

Honus Wagner

We usually do anniversaries in years like 50 and 100, but this is the 110th anniversary of one of the more unique years in Major League Baseball history. So it seems like a good time to look back at one of Deadball Baseball’s most interesting years.

There are a number of reasons why it’s important to remember 1908 in baseball. The most common response is probably that it’s the last time, prior to 2016, that the Cubs actually won the World Series. It was the apex year for the Tinker to Evers to Chance Cubs (and let’s not forget Mordecai Brown’s pitching). They Beat up on Ty Cobb’s Detroit team in the Series, then faded in 1909 before winning a final National League pennant in 1910 (losing the Series to the Philadelphia Athletics).

It’s also a good time to remember John McGraw’s New York Giants. They were a terrific Deadball team, fighting the Cubs right to the end (and one game beyond) before bowing out. It was a typical McGraw team, great pitching, good hitting, lots of base running, and decent defense for the era. But it’s most famous in 1908 for the “Merkle Boner” play. In case you’ve forgotten, in a key game against the Cubs, Fred Merkle (first baseman) was on first when a two-out single scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. Merkle didn’t go all the way to second and was subsequently called out on a force play to end the inning with the score tied. The replay (the “one game beyond” mentioned above) saw the Cubs win and head to the World Series while McGraw, the Giants, and Merkle headed home for the off-season. It is arguably the most famous Deadball Era play and was 110 years ago this season.

It was also the year of Honus Wagner. Read these numbers carefully. Wagner’s triple slash line was .354/.415/.542/.957 with an OPS+ of 205 with 308 total bases. All of those lead the NL in 1908. He also had 201 hits, 39 doubles, 19 triples, 109 RBIs, and 53 stolen bases. All of those also led the NL. He hit only 10 home runs, good for second in the league. All that got him 11.5 WAR, which also led the NL. In fielding he led all NL shortstops in putouts. It is unquestionably one of the greatest seasons ever by any player. Among WAR for position players it’s the highest ever until the arrival of Babe Ruth in New York in 1920. It still ranks tied for 11th even after 110 years. To put it in some context of the era, the NL average triple slash line was .239/.299/.306/.605 with an average OPS+ of 93 (meaning the average player was below average–chew on that for a minute). The .239 is a low for the NL ever, tying 1888 for an all-time low. For what it’s worth the American League in 1968 set the all-time low for either league with an average of .230 (and in 1967 they were at .236, also below the NL in 1908). In 1908 the AL also hit .239. Wagner was simply terrific in 1908.

So set back and enjoy the 2018 season. Hopefully it will be worth remembering 110 years from now. Unfortunately, I won’t be around to make comparisons.

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Curses, the Rangers, and Golden Corral

December 27, 2017

Best Buffet in the USA (by their own admission)

We spent the last holiday with my sister-in-law. She’s a nice enough lady, but she hates to cook. So she decided she’d treat us to a dinner out. She picked the local Golden Corral for the big event.

Now I have no idea if you’re familiar with Golden Corral, but it’s a national buffet chain. You enter, pay some money, and are met with a long set of food choices that go on for several feet. There are meats, desserts, breads, veggies, salad items, and drinks (soft, coffee, tea, and water). The deviled eggs are great and if you’re picking out the deviled eggs for mention it should tell you something about the quality of the food. It actually ranges from pretty good to pretty wretched depending on the dish and the establishment.

It’s also usually crowded. The tables are close together so if you’re eating instead of gabbing it’s pretty easy to hear the conversation of the people at the next table, which is about three feet away. The table just to my left contained two men who looked to be in their mid-thirties who were deep in conversation.

“They’ve been cursed by God. I swear it’s a curse from God.”

Well, that got my attention. Not wanting to be in the line of fire if a curse from God is on the menu I decided I’d better make sure who (or what) was cursed. So I grew a long set of ears and heard the following conversation (which is only vaguely paraphrased):

“Can’t be a curse. God wouldn’t curse the Rangers.”

“Sure he would. Look at what happened when they got rid of him.” This from the first guy.

“Yeah, they started losing but I don’t know that was a curse. Maybe it was just getting rid of Ron Washington.”

At this point I knew the curse was on the Texas Rangers and as a Dodgers fan I figured I was safe and could go back to eating.

“Nope. God’s gotta be a Ryan fan and so help me he cursed the Rangers when they cut him loose.” OK, it was too much and I had to start listening again.

“Well, they were winning when he was there.”

“Damned straight. Nolan Ryan was the Rangers and they let him go. Where’d he go? Houston. And look what happened to them.”

As a Dodgers fan I was well aware of what happened to the Astros. Maybe there was something to this conversation.

“You tell me that’s not a curse on the Rangers.”

“OK, they lost. But a curse? From God?”

“Look what God did to Houston with that damned flood. You think he’s a big Houston fan? Hell, maybe getting Ryan saved them from worse problems.”

For the first time I realized that Nolan Ryan had a direct line to God that most of us lacked.

“I’m just saying the Rangers ain’t gonna win again until they get Ryan back in Arlington. God’ll see to that.”

I think the other guy was starting to agree with him, but about that time my wife got back to the table and insisted I talk with her and her sister. I don’t know how the conversation turned out but the guy who believed in the curse was winning.

 

RIP Dick Enberg

December 22, 2017

Dick Enberg at the Hall of Fame

Just saw that Dick Enberg died. He was the winner of the Frick Award in 2015 for his broadcasting career. That gives him a picture in the Hall of Fame.

During his career he broadcast a number of different sports including tennis, football, and basketball. For the purposes of this site he did radio work for the Angels, television work for the Padres, and broadcast the World Series. He was 82.

RIP, Dick Enberg.

“Betty the Bum” and the Belles

December 19, 2017

Racine Belles

When I was a kid in the Texas Panhandle we didn’t have “bag ladies,” primarily because the term hadn’t gotten that far west yet. The city fathers (and mothers) would tell you that the kind of riff raff that became “bag ladies” were simply “bums” and our town didn’t like them or want them around. Despite pronouncements like that, we had one. Ours was called “Betty the Bum.”

The last couple of years before I graduated from high school, I worked in the evenings in the tallest building in town (it had six floors). One of the companies in town controlled the top couple of floors in the building and hired high school kids (all boys) to serve as evening janitors. It was fairly typical janitorial work, sweeping floors, emptying trash, cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the rooms that had carpets. All the corner offices were carpeted so I learned that “corner offices” were where the bigwigs hung out.

Betty hung out in the first floor lobby. It was a big open space with a pair of elevators, a barber shop, and a pharmacy. There was a set of stairs that ran up to the top floors, but most people took the elevators. Betty came in about 4pm and sat down on the floor opposite the elevators and just away from the pharmacy entrance. She stayed there overnight because it was warm in the winter and cool in the 100 degree West Texas summers. She didn’t actually beg, but simply sat there for the comfort of being out of the elements. Occasionally someone would flip her a quarter.

She was probably in her 40s, but looked 60. The hair was gray by this point. There was no makeup and the face was dirty. So were the hands and the fingernails were way too long. She tended to wear the same outfit for a few months, then wander into the local main street mission for a shower and a change of clothing. My folks knew the minister at the big Methodist church in town. There were about four Methodist churches in town and I never knew the differences (I don’t do theology), but the biggest ran the mission. He told them that Betty was a semi-regular who showed up for a meal, a cot, and a change of clothes every so often, but he knew nothing about her. He had no idea about her life story (and neither did I). He did say that she seemed nice.

Most of us working the janitorial shift agreed. She’d smile at us (for some reason she still had all her teeth) when we came down and we’d occasionally talk with her for a few minutes. We got paid twice a month and on payday we’d head over to the pharmacy (which was open until 10pm) to cash our checks. There was this good-looking girl who ran the cash register and most of us just wanted to see her and cashing the check there made that possible. Generally someone would buy a candy bar and hand it to Betty on the way out. She’d say thanks and start on it right away.

Sometimes we’d actually have something like a conversation. Generally they were simple things like the weather or sports. And then one day she told us she’d played professional baseball. Well, we all figured she was making that up. Heck, everybody knew girls didn’t play baseball, especially professional baseball. She’d even got specific, she’d played for something called the Racine Belles. We figured that had to be a softball team of some sort and none of us knew where Racine was. I found an encyclopedia and told the guys that Racine was in Wisconsin, but there was nothing about a baseball team, especially a baseball team for girls. Not a one of us had ever heard of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.

The Belles were really good. Formed in 1943 they lasted through the 1950 season before moving to Battle Creek. In 1943 they won the first ever AAGPBL championship and won again in 1946. In 1948 they won the Western Division championship, losing a first round playoff to the team from South Bend, Indiana (the Rockford, Illinois Peaches won the title in ’48). If she played for them at all, she played for a good team.

Betty was pretty non-specific about when she’d played or what position but she was adamant she had played. There were no long stories about what she’d done or who she’d played with. And she never mentioned a pennant. So adding that to the fact that we all just knew for sure that there were no girls in the big leagues we basically blew it off as some bum telling a tall tale.

I more or less dismissed Betty from my mind after I left to join the Army. I don’t recall ever seeing her again and I don’t know what happened to her. I’m not even sure “Betty” was her name, it was just what we called her. (It was good alliteration, but I’m not certain I knew what that was.) She would answer to it, but I’m not sure she wouldn’t have answered to about anything. I looked up the Belles roster and found one Elizabeth and two Bettys. All three are well enough attested that I’m certain they never were a “bag lady” in the Texas Panhandle. So I don’t know if she told the truth or not, but it was a good story that I hoped was true.

Hope for Hall of Fame Pitchers

December 14, 2017

Ferguson Jenkins

There are two relatively new trends occurring in Hall of Fame voting (both BBWAA and the various Veteran’s Committees) that bear watching closely. Both may, and I stress “may,” lead to new candidates getting a better shot at election, and “Old Timers” getting a better second look. To me, they are hopeful signs.

In 1991 Ferguson Jenkins made the Hall of Fame. In 1992 the Veteran’s Committee of the day elected Hal Newhouser. In 1996 the Vets again elected a pitcher, Jim Bunning. Then it took all the way to 2011 to elect Bert Blyleven. Other than those four (and a number of relievers and Negro League pitchers, both of which are different from starters) the Hall elected only 300 game winners. It seemed that the key to getting your ticket stamped for Cooperstown as a starter was to win 300 games. Then came 2015 and John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, and now Jack Morris. None won 300 games (none got overly close–Morris had 254). I think that’s a hopeful sign that the reliance on 300 wins as the metric for election is going away. I suppose there are a number of reasons why (like all the 300 winners are already in and you still want to put in a starter or two now and then just because you can) but to me it’s most important not for the reasons why but because it opens up the possibility of other non-300 game winners reaching Cooperstown. I’m one of those that believes Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina ought to be enshrined and neither got near 300 wins. So the new willingness to add in pitchers with lower win totals makes that much more possible.

Whatever you think of Morris making the Hall of Fame, he has one positive for pitchers still waiting, an enormous ERA. His 3.90 ERA is well above what you normally see in a Hall of Fame pitcher. There are a lot of Deadball guys with ERAs under three and several later starters with ERA’s in the mid-threes, but Morris is an outlier and that to me is a hopeful sign also. Because now it becomes more difficult to dismiss a pitcher simply because he has a high ERA. Andy Pettitte with his high ERA is on the horizon (and I mention him here without reference to steroid issues). Wes Ferrell, an excellent pitcher from the 1930s with an ERA over four suddenly has a better chance for Cooperstown (without reference to his bat, which I believe few voters will consider). There is also Mel Harder and George Earnshaw (neither of which I’m convinced are Hall of Fame quality, but ought to get another look) and a number of others like Eddie Rommel (whose ERA is near Mussina’s) and Bill Sherdel deserve another look (and again I’m not convinced either is up to Hall standards).

It is sometimes very difficult to be hopeful when discussing the Hall of Fame voting. But these are good signs moving forward. It will be interesting to see if either is maintained.

 

 

Modern Era Committee Speaks

December 11, 2017

The first of the two Hall of Fame votes for this season is done. The Modern Era Committee, one of the four current versions of the Veteran’s Committee just announced their picks for addition to Cooperstown: Alan Trammell and Jack Morris.

Trammell

Trammell was new to the ballot, having just fallen off the BBWAA ballot short of election. He played shortstop for Detroit during his entire career. I’m not sure who the top 10 all time shortstops are (Honus Wagner and nine other guys is a good bet) but Trammell legitimately belongs in the argument.

Morris with Minnesota

For a while Morris was a teammate of Trammell’s. They won the 1984 World Series together. Later Morris moved on to Minnesota where he won another World Series (and was Series MVP), then headed to Toronto for two more championships.

I have no problem with either man making the Hall of Fame. I’ll admit to being more pleased with Trammell than with Morris, but I’m not opposed to either being there. I’m very surprised to see Marvin Miller fail election again. MLB’s website says he got 7 votes (of 16 possible). Ted Simmons I feel a little sorry for. Needing 12 votes to get elected (of 16) Simmons got 11. That’s kind of a shame, but it also surprises me and gives me hope for Simmons in the future.. And BTW the same site says Trammell got 14 votes and Morris 13.

The Morris election is, to me, a hopeful sign for other players. Traditionally high ERA’s have been a disqualifier to election for the Hall of Fame. With Morris now in with an ERA just south of four it may open up the Hall for other pitchers like Mel Harder and Wes Ferrell, as well as current nominee Mike Mussina (who’s ERA would be high for the Hall). We’ll see if that works (and none of this is meant to indicate whether I indorse Ferrell and/or Harder for the Hall or not).

So congratulations to both on their election. Now we get to see (in January) what the other vote does.

2017 Hall of Fame Ballot

December 5, 2017

 

Chipper Jones

I’ve spent the last while waxing wonderful (I do that, you know) about the Modern Era Veteran’s Committee’s upcoming vote, that I’ve basically set the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot on the back burner. As I can pretty much only do one thing at a time anymore (doing two things at once is now doing three too many), that was the right thing for me. But now it’s time to weigh in on the players who will be announced in January.

The rules allow for 10 picks and as I believe in voting as many times as they’ll let me I’m picking 10 guys again this year. Some years because of a weak ballot, that’s not the best idea in the world, but this year there are a lot of really worthy candidates for the Hall so I’ve actually had to eliminate some I might otherwise at least consider. Normally I write-up short blurbs attempting to justify my choice of a particular player for the Hall of Fame. Well, I’m tired, I’ve done it a gazillion times, so this year I’m going to skip it for most of my list. Because most of the list consists of holdovers from 2016. So seven of my picks are seven players I’ve chosen before: Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Curt Shilling, and Larry Walker. If you want to know my reasons for each, find the post about this time last year when I wrote about each. Having written all that, there are still three spots on the 10 man ballot. All are new guys and all deserve a comment, in alphabetical order.

Chipper Jones: During my lifetime baseball has produced an inordinate number of truly great third basemen, Brook Robinson, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, Mike Schmidt, George Brett (in no particular order). Chipper Jones deserves recognition as a member of that group. He has an MVP award which maybe he shouldn’t, but there is nothing wrong with his statistics with either the bat or the glove. As “first ballot Hall of Famer” has become a thing, I think he probably deserves to be one of them.

Scott Rolen: Hear me out before you yelp. Rolen doesn’t have the big offensive numbers that guys like Jones, Mathews, and Schmidt have, but he was an excellent hitter. His OPS+ is 122, his offensive WAR is 52.1. That’s good enough for consideration. But he was an amazing defensive player. His defensive WAR is 20.6, he’s 11th in career assists, is top 20 in both double plays turned, and fielding percentage. He has a Rookie of the Year award (which he probably deserved). He’s going to have trouble making the Hall because he followed Schmidt at Philadelphia and he wasn’t Schmidt (but then neither was anyone else) and he’s up against Jones who was always more well known, played for a more popular team, and was flashier. I just want him to get enough votes so he’ll hang on the list. Then maybe voters will take time to look over his career and move him up the ballot and ultimately into the Hall.

Jim Thome: You get 600 home runs without a whiff of steroids in the steroid era you should automatically get consideration for the Hall of Fame. That’s Jim Thome. But he also has 1699 RBIs (what? He couldn’t stay around for one more?), an OPS of .956 with an OPS+ of 147, and 77.1 WAR. But then he struck out a lot, you say. Yeah, he did, but he also walked a lot, leading his league in both three times. And of course he got bigger as time went on (so did I, but I’m not talking about around the waist) and that surely will lead someone to go “Ah ha, steroids.” We’ll see how well he does. I expect him to stay on the list, if not be elected.

So there’s my list. I’m sticking with seven previous picks and adding three new ones. Good luck to all of them.

 

 

“Where Were You…

November 30, 2017

…when I laid the foundations of the earth?”–Job 38:4

Joe Morgan

So Joe Morgan has decided to chastise the rest of us concerning Hall of Fame voting. It seems we fans, as much perhaps as the voters, have made a mistake. We’ve allowed a bunch of steroid junkies to run amok on our favorite Hall of Fame ballot and may be close to electing one, or more, of their ilk to the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Well, Joe, where the heck were you 10 years ago?

It’s not that I disagree with Morgan. I think the steroid boys should be rejected and left to purchase a ticket to the Hall of Fame if they want to get in. But I wonder why the “Morgan Letter” wasn’t written 10 years ago when a lot of these guys were first coming onto the Hall ballot. How’s come, oh, great arbitrator of our morals? From my point of view guys like Morgan, who could have weighed in more strenuously years ago are at least partially at fault if the evil, nefarious steroid villains get into the Hall because guys like Morgan needed to send the letter a long, long time ago. I recognize that Morgan has spoken out previously, but the letter is a much for formal and concentrated format that has more punch than mere comments.

So don’t get too upset, Joe, if one of the steroid bunch gets in. You should have yelled more strenuously a long, long time ago.

 

 

Modern Era Ballot: the Pitchers

November 28, 2017

With the contributors and everyday players out-of-the-way, it’s time to look at the pitchers appearing on the ballot.

Tommy John is known more for the surgery named for him than for his pitching. That’s a shame, because he was very good. Primarily a ground ball pitcher he won 288 games, lost 231, had an ERA of 3.34 (ERA+ 111), 2245 strikeouts, a 1.283 WHIP, and 62.3 WAR. He went to three World Series’ (losing all 3), and is perhaps most famous in Series play for being pulled at a critical time in game six of the 1981 Series. His team subsequently lost both the game and the Series.

Jack Morris unlike John, is known primarily for a World Series win–game 7 in 1991. It is frequently considered the second greatest pitching performance in a World Series game (behind Larsen in 1956). But Morris more than a single game. He led all pitchers in wins in the 1980s, had a no-hitter on national television, led his team to the World Series in 1984, 1991, and 1992, begin MVP in the middle one. For a career he went 254-186 with a 3.90 ERA (ERA+ 105), 2478 strikeouts, a 1.296 WHIP. and 43.8 WAR.

Luis Tiant was something of an enigma. He started his career strong, then faltered in the middle before coming back strong and leading the Red Sox to a World Series (which they lost). He won an ERA title in is fifth season, then had four terrible seasons. In 1972 he won another ERA title and pitched effectively through 1980. For his career he was 229-172 with a 3.30 ERA (ERA+ of 114) with 2416 strikeouts, a 1.199 WHIP, and 66.1 WAR.

At this point I have one vote left (of five). Frankly, I’d have little problem with any of these three reaching the Hall of Fame, although if I had my choice, I’d take Dr. Frank Jobe, the man who created Tommy John surgery. His pioneering work has saved a lot of pitching careers. I’m also aware that a high ERA is going to be a problem for Andy Pettitte (as will the steroid allegations) when he becomes eligible. The same problem also plagues Wes Ferrell and Mel Harder, two excellent pitchers of the 1930s. A vote for Morris might cut away some of that stigma and help each of the three. Tiant has the best ERA, WHIP, and WAR.

I think I’ll hold this vote for Dr. Jobe. Maybe he’ll show up soon.

 

 

Modern Era Ballot: Everyday Players

November 22, 2017

Trammell

Part two of my look at the latest Veteran’s Committee effort. This time the Everyday Players.

Let me begin by reminding you which everyday players are on the list: Steve Garvey, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Alan Trammell.

Garvey is most famous for all his years with the Dodgers as a first baseman. He won an MVP, two All Star game MVP Awards, was twice the NLCS MVP, and led the Dodgers to the World Series three times, winning one, and the Padres to a single Series (losing it). He holds the NL record for consecutive games played, hit .294, and has 2599 hits (What? He couldn’t have hung on for one more hit?).

Mattingly was the Yankees first baseman for much of the 1980s and 1990s. He won a single MVP Award, had his number retired by the Yanks, tied the record for consecutive games with a home run, holds the record for most consecutive games with a hit (not part of the home run record), holds the record for grand slam homers in a season (since tied), and has managed both the Dodgers and the Marlins.

Murphy is a two-time MVP while playing outfield for the Braves. Originally a catcher, he made a successful transition to the outfield. He ended his career with 398 home runs and 1266 RBIs. He was, according to his Wikipedia page, elected to the World Humanitarian Hall of Fame (had never heard of it).

No one ever was going to elect Parker to a Humanitarian Hall of Fame. He also won an MVP Award while with Pittsburgh along with a World Series championship. He later served as the designated hitter for the “Bash Brothers” Oakland A’s team of the late 1980s and early 1990s, winning another championship. He also won two batting titles and an RBI crown. He was also suspended for drug use.

Simmons was one of the first power hitting catchers, following the likes of Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella. He was miscast as a catcher and eventually ended up a designated hitter in the AL after starting his career in St. Louis. At the end of his career he also played first base with Atlanta. He ended up with 248 home runs, 1389 RBIs, and a .285 average.

Trammell was a superior shortstop for the Tigers. He led them to the World Series title in 1984 (against Garvey’s Padres), winning the Series MVP. He was second in the MVP race in 1987. A lot of people thought he should have won. Later he managed the Tigers, producing no winning seasons.

Those are short notes about each player highlighting some of their career, and post playing baseball activities. Not a bad player in the lot. In fact it the committee picked all of them I wouldn’t be sorry. Having said that, each has distinct problems that have kept them out of the Hall.

With four votes left on my mythical ballot I can’t pick ’em all, so I’ll take three: Trammell, Simmons, and Mattingly. To the others: better luck next time, fellas.

Pitchers next.