Archive for November, 2010

Doing my Willie Nelson impression

November 29, 2010

For most of next week I’ll be “on the road again.”  So will not be posting any great pearls of widsom (or seeds of stupidity either). Don’t burn down the place while I’m gone.

The 2011 Writer’s Ballot

November 26, 2010

I spent some time this morning on the Hall of Fame site looking for some info. In the process, I stumbled across the names of the players newly eligible for the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot. There are 27 names on it, a couple of which made me go “Who?” A couple of them were people I didn’t realize had been retired five years. John Olerud was one of those. It seems like he’s just stepped aside from playing. Another is Raul Mondesi, who I thought was going to be a great player and wasn’t. Then there’s Jose Offerman who I thought was still playing somewhere (probably with Julio Franco) deep on the bench of some team in last place or something, but still toiling away in the Major Leagues. There’s also Ugueth Urbina. I wonder if he’s out of prison yet.

I’m not going through the entire list, it’s 27 names long and is available at the Hall of Fame site. Add to it the 14 players retained from the 2010 ballot and the list will be long (41 names). I know a lot of them will be gone after the first balloting. Guys like Steve Reed (who?) and Dan Wilson, who I also didn’t know was gone, have no chance but I like the idea of their names appearing on at least one Hall of Fame ballot. It sort of validates their career by reminding the voters (and the rest of us) that they were good enough to play 10 years at the highest level of baseball.

The rule is that a voter can choose up to 10 names. You can vote for none, but you can’t vote for more than 10. I heard an old-time sportswriter once say that “They give me ten votes, I’m gonna take ’em.” I kind of like that idea because it allows some of the guys at the bottom of the list to get at least a token vote for the Hall. I don’t like the policy of voting for none. If the writer doesn’t think anyone is worthy of election then I’d prefer he simply not turn in a ballot rather than turn in a blank one. It effects percentages and screws guys.  

I’m currently looking over the two lists, trying to determine who I’d vote for induction. I’ll be picking ten because it’s a way to honor someone who I particularly liked. I won’t be picking any of the steroid guys, but the rest I’m not sure of in total. Meaning I’m sure of about five, but not about the others. That means I probably don’t really think the other five are true Hall of Famers, but I remember them and want to tell them “Guy, I thought you were good.” That may not be the best way to look at the Hall vote, but it’s my way.

Picking the Winners, 2010 Style

November 24, 2010

Now all the postseason awards are handed out and there’s cheering in some circles and weeping in others. In some previous posts, I stated my position on the various individual awards. How did I do?

I looked at the awards in two ways. The managers I told you who I thought should win. With the other three awards (Rookie, Cy Young, MVP) I told you who I thought would win. Here are the results, managers first.

I said I would vote for Bud Black and for Terry Francona. I also stated that Francona had no shot at winning, but that I felt he’d done the best job trying to win with what was essentially an ER ward. I did note that Ron Gardenhire was a legitimate candidate to win, but that I personally chose Francona. So I went one for two, getting Black right. That’s better than I normally do. Usually I get the managers all wrong unless someone comes out of left field to win a pennant or something. So I can pat myself on the back, at least a little.

On the player awards I went 5 of 6, which is a lot better than I usually do. Maybe this trying to figure out what the writer’s are going to do is easier than picking the people myself. I got both MVPs, both Rookies, and the NL Cy Young winners. I missed, as I stated in my last post, the AL Cy Young winner. I underestimated the amount of credence the writers would give to the new sabrmetric stats that favored Felix Hernandez for the award. So I guess I had a reasonably successful time picking postseason awards in 2010.

Does it mean anything? Well, my picking doesn’t, but the writer’s picks might or might not (how’s that for being definite?). If you look down the lists of Rookies of the Year and MVPs and Cy Young Award winners you get a mixed bag. In rookie voting you get Cal Ripken and Ron Kittle in back-to-back years (BTW Ripken is the last ROY winner to make the Hall of Fame). Not all of the ROY winners go on to great careers. Sticking with Ripken, he wins the MVP in 1983 and is followed by Willie Hernandez. Not exactly the same quality player, right? The Cy Young gives us Sandy Koufax and Dean Chance in back-to-back seasons. Again, very different quality players. My point is simply that winning one of these awards is no guarantee of long term greatness. So we need to be careful about how much weight we put on these awards.

Having said that, congratulations to all the winners. I hope they go on to great and illustrious careers. Now if the Dodgers could just pick up one or two of these guys…

Picking a Winner

November 22, 2010

Juan Marichal

I’m frankly stunned that Felix Hernandez won the AL Cy Young Award. I guess I’ll have to chalk it up to not believing that the Baseball Writer’s Association had embraced the new statistics. It seems that the last couple of Cy Young votes in both leagues (Roy Halladay excluded) are evidence that the sabrmetric stats are beginning to overtake the more traditional stats.That’s neither a totally good thing nor a totally bad thing. Just because the stats are new (or old) doesn’t make them better. It also doesn’t mean that previous results were wrong. Take Juan Marichal as an example.

I’ve heard people say that Marichal is the best pitcher to never win a Cy Young Award. Actually Walter Johnson (or Cy Young) is. What they mean is that since the award was established, Marichal is the most overlooked. Well, maybe. There have been a number of truly fine pitchers that haven’t won the award, but I won’t argue against Marichal. But by using the traditional stats, is he really particularly overlooked? The heart of Marichal’s career is 1963-1969 with a nod toward 1971. I’ve heard it said that for the entire period Marichal had better numbers than any of the pitchers who won. So what? The Cy Young Award is for yearly, not career, excellence. You want career excellence? Look to the Hall of Fame. If you look at his yearly stats compared to the Cy Young Award winners the conclusion is at best mixed, and at worst you have to conclude Marichal wasn’t rooked. Here’s the stats for the Cy Young Award winners in 1963 through 1971 (with 1967 and 1970 left off because Marichal had down years those two seasons). The stats used are wins/winning percentage/ ERA/ strikeouts/shutouts. Remember from 1963 through 1966 there is only one award, so for Marichal to win he must be the consensus best pitcher in all of Major League Baseball to win. From 1967 through 1971 there are two awards, one for each league, so Marichal has to be only the consensus National League pitcher. Also remember that in 1964 the AL pitcher won, so the numbers don’t exactly compare. All other years the winner involved is an NL pitcher. Marichal’s corresponding stats follow each year’s winner.

1963: 25/833/188/306/11 (Koufax), Marichal: 25/758/241/248/5

1964: 20/690/165/207/11 (Chance), Marichal: 21/724/248/206/4

1965: 26/765/204/382/8 (Koufax), Marichal: 22/629/213/240/10

1966: 27/750/173/317/5 (Koufax), Marichal: 25/806/223/222/4

1968: 22/710/112/268/13 (Gibson), Marichal: 26/743/243/218/5

1969: 25/781/22/208/5 (Seaver), Marichal: 21/656/210/205/8

1971: 24/649/277/253/5 (Jenkins), Marichal: 18/621/294/159/4

So Marichal doesn’t win any of those. Who do you like? Maybe Marichal, maybe the other guy, but in each case you can argue that Marichal did or didn’t get jobbed. The closest, to me, is 1964.

Now remember that between 1963 and 1971 the statistics revolution hadn’t occurred. We didn’t have Whip or ERA+ or War or most of the other stats (even Saves was just being floated) so you cannot use those to argue the voters got it wrong, because those stats didn’t exist. Now that they do, we can see a drift away from the traditional stats that is probably good for the game,  but let’s not retroactively push them back into other eras and argue that they should have been used to come up with different results.

For those interested, I ran the Whip and ERA+ stats for Marichal and the Cy Young Award winner for the years above and list them below Whip/ERA+ with the winner first.

1963: 0.875/159 (Koufax), Marichal: 0.996/133

1964: 1.006/198 (Chance), Marichal: 1.089/144

1965: 0.855/160 (Koufax), Marichal: 0.914/169

1966: 0.985/190 (Koufax), Marichal: 0.859/167

1968: 0.853/258 (Gibson), Marichal: 1.047/123

1969: 1.039/165 (Seaver), Marichal: 0.994/168

1971: 1.049/142 (Jenkins), Marichal: 1.075, 117 

Do those numbers make you think the award went the wrong place? If they do, remember they weren’t around in Juan Marichal’s great years.

An Anniversary

November 19, 2010

Happy Anniversary

One year ago today I opened this blog with a short and tentative post about the 1903 World Series. Now it’s a year later and I’m still doing this. More amazingly, people are still reading it You don’t suppose there’s a way to get paid for this, do you?

I started this with a wish to share my love of a great and glorious game with others. With more than 260 posts filed I’m still typing away. Over 5300 times someone has come here and read what I wrote. Some of them have even returned for a second of third time. For that I’m eternally grateful, although I have to admit I do worry about the sanity of some of the people who’ve chosen to read me with some frequency. Have you thought about a therapist (maybe the Geico drill sergeant)? I appreciate every hit and more than the hits, I appreciate the comments, of which there are over 300 by now. I find them generally interesting and informative and am surprised at how much I learn from them. I have a feeling I’ve learned more wisdom than I’ve imparted. For that I am also eternally grateful.

My family will tell you I like to say “If I learned something today, I’ve had a successful day.” The research and study necessary for these posts have given me many successful days. So too have the comments I’ve received on them. Equally important are the contacts I’ve made. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned from the links to other bloggers who have widened my horizons on the sport of baseball. I owe you a debt I can’t repay. There are only two things I can do: 1. continue my own posts (and how much debt they pay is highly subjective and speculative) and 2. keep on knowing that when we disagree, I’m right and you aren’t.

Let me end by saying it’s been fun learning about and writing about the saints, sinners, role models, rogues, charlatans, charmers, weasels, and winners who have graced the sport for the last roughly one hundred and fifty years. I want to stress how much we owe them all for making the game memorable. Not just the players, but the owners, the managers, the club house people, the grounds crew, and the peanut sellers all mean so much to the game and our enjoyment of it. May they all, in the great old Yiddish blessing, “live to see a thousand reasons to rejoice.”

Medal of Freedom for Stan the Man

November 17, 2010

Just saw on MSNBC that the President is giving the Medal of Freedom to Stan Musial. My grandfather is probably dancing on the streets of glory. Musial joins Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Ted Williams as baseball players to receive the medal. No details other than these at this time.

One of My All-Time Favorites

November 17, 2010

Larry Gardner in 1917

You know how there are just certain players who reach out and impress you? It’s not there stats exactly. Sometimes it’s just a picture that lingers with you. Sometimes it’s your first baseball card. Sometimes it’s just watching the intensity or the sheer joy with which the guy plays. Sometimes it’s a story about him that gets your attention and you can’t shake it. Sometimes it’s just the memories of others who saw him before your time and remind you that you’ll never see his like. We all have players that touch us like that. SportsPhd talks about Roy Smalley that way. Bill Miller has his own special Met. For me Larry Gardner is one of those.

Gardner was born in Vermont in 1886. He played ball in school and eventually, after some time in the local leagues, ended up at the University of Vermont. He stayed through 1908, majoring in chemistry. After classes ended in 1908 he joined the Red Sox as a  third baseman. He got into two games, hit .500, and drove in a run. In 1909 he split time between third and shortstop, managed to play in 19 games, and hit .297. By 1910 he was the starting second baseman. In 1911 he moved back to third base, where he remained through 1917. In 1912 he hit .315, led the team in triples (18), stole 25 bases, slugged .449, and had 163 hits. Boston won the World Series that season despite Gardner hitting only .167 in the Series. In 1915 and 1916 the Red Sox returned to the World Series, winning both. Gardner was injured in 1915 and managed  to hit only .258 in 127 games. This time he hit .235 in the Series with a triple. In 1916 he was back fulltime and hit .308 with 152 hits and a .387 slugging percentage. He had a strange World Series. He led the team in home runs with two, in RBIs with six, but managed to hit only .176 (3 for 17). Obviously he made his hits count.

In 1918 he was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics. He didn’t have a bad year for the last place A’s, but was traded to Cleveland for the 1919 season. Teaming again with former Red Sox center fielder Tris Speaker, Gardner hit .300 for the second place Indians. In 1920, he made it back to the World Series one last time. He hit .208, after going over .300 during the regular season, and Cleveland won the Series in six games.

Gardner was a player who took advantage of the new “lively ball ” era. He hit over .300 in 1920 and 1921 establishing career highs in hits, runs, RBIs, and total bases. He slipped back in 1922 and even further back in 1923. He was done in 1924. Splitting time between second and third base he hit only .200 in 38 games (only 14 of them in the field). For his career he hit .289, slugged .384, had an OPS of .739 (OPS+ of 109), had 2571 total bases, scored 867 runs, and had 934 RBIs. He’s one of those guys whose numbers really change with the death of the Deadball Era. His fielding percentage was good for his era, but not at the top of the league, but he had a decent range factor. Not a bad career.

With his playing days behind him, Gardner managed for a few years in the minor leagues, ran a garage in his home town, and in 1929 joined the University of Vermont physical education department. In 1932 he became head baseball coach. In 1942 he added Athletic Director to his title. He held both positions until his retirement in 1952. In 1969 he made it into the University Hall of Fame, and SABR acknowledged him as the greatest ballplayer from Vermont in a 1973 poll. After his retirement the university named its baseball MVP award the “Larry Gardner Award.” He died in 1976 at age 89. A University of Vermont man to the end, he donated his body to the university Department of Anatomy.

I’m not sure why Gardner has always been a favorite of mine. There are other third basemen who were better, other members of both the Red Sox and Indians who were greater players, but Gardner was still a very good player. His numbers don’t leap off the page at you, but since I became aware of him back 40 or so years ago, I’ve always liked what I saw and read. I think maybe it’s because he so represents the transition from the Deadball to Livelyball Eras. It’s really obvious that something changed in the early 1920s because Gardner is better at 30 than at 20, a lot better. Not sure that’s it, really, but it’s as good an explanation as any.

So tell me which players are your Larry Gardners?

The Greatest General Manager

November 16, 2010

Ed Barrow

A title like the one above is dangerous. People can always say “Hey, dope, you forgot…”. Well, in this case I think I’m quite safe in picking Ed Barrow is the finest General Manager to ever grace the game.

Barrow was born in May 1868. After a short newspaper stint in Iowa, Barrow moved to Pittsburgh in 1890 and by 1895 had served as manager in Wheeling, West Virginia and Paterson, New Jersey. In ’95 while in New Jersey, he signed Honus Wagner (see what I mean about greatest) to a contract. By 1903 he was manager of the Detroit Tigers, finishing fifth in an eight team league. He left in 1904 and went back to managing in the minors. In 1910 he took over presidency of the Eastern League and in 1918 became manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Barrow made one major change to the Sox roster in 1918. He moved Babe Ruth from being primarily a pitcher who could hit a bit to an outfielder who could pitch a bit. Boston promptly won the World Series. Barrow stayed at Boston through 1920. The owner, Harry Frazzee, was in the process of dismantling the team for cash. The most famous sale was Ruth to New York, but it also cost him his manager. Barrow also moved to New York, this time in the role of business manager (the modern equivalent is general manager). It’s here that Barrow flourished. Given pretty much a free hand by Yankees ownership, between 1920 and 1945 Barrow helped create the greatest dynasty in Major League history. He was largely responsible for bringing up such players as Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Earle Combs for the 1920s Yankees team. In the 1930s he added Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey (Dickey actually came up in 1928, but didn’t start), Phil Rizzuto, Lefty Gomez, Tommy Henrich, and Charley Keller. He also was an astute trader, picking up journeyman Red Ruffing from Boston to be the ace of the 1930’s team.

In 1945, Barrow became president of the Yankees, holding the job for two years. He retired after the 1947 season and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953. He died later that same year.

There is no question that the Yankees teams that dominated baseball between 1921 and 1947 owed their success to the quality of the players on the field. Ed Barrow was largely responsible for putting those teams together. Branch Rickey may have been more influential by creating the farm system and integrating baseball, but Barrow was more successful on the diamond. He gets my vote as the best GM ever.

The Next Hall of Fame Vote

November 15, 2010

The Hall of Fame

Well, the new Hall of fame ballot for the Veteran’s committee is out. Here’s the list: Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons, and Rusty Staub as players. Billy Martin is the only manager listed. Pat Gillick, Marvin Miller, and George Steinbrenner are the executives on the ballot.

This is the “Expansion Era” list. It includes players from 1973 through 1989 and owners, managers, execs, etc from 1972 through the present. There are some other qualifications that make guys like Joe Torre ineligible for now, but those are the key dates for people being considered this time. They’ve created three Veteran’s Committees now: this one and two others. The others are the “Segregation Era” which runs from 1871 through 1946 and the “Golden Era” which is 1946 through 1972. Remember you heard that here first. And it’s interesting that the National Association isn’t a major league, but by making the first period begin in 1871, it seems the players in the Association can be considered. I find that a bit of a strange coupling. 

Apparently the three committees meet in rotation one a year. So any one on this current list will be available for consideration again in 2013. The committee consists of eight current Hall of Famers, four executives, and four writers. Unlike the writer’s ballot, which restricts a member from voting for more than 10 players, the committee can vote for any number of people they deem worthy of the Hall.

It’s an interesting list this time, with no player that is a certainty. I will point out that Johnny Bench, Bill Giles, Tony Perez, and Frank Robinson are all on the committee. This makes four members with close Cincinnati ties, which could be good for Concepcion. I don’t have any idea who they’ll pick.

But of course I can’t leave it at that. What fun would that be? I’ve got to tell you who I would vote for if I were a member of the committee. 

I’d vote for George Steinbrenner. I never liked his act, but his importance to the game is significant enough that I think he deserves a nod. I do wish that Colonel Ruppert would get a try, but that is apparently the job of the “Segregation Era” committee. You gotta admit that Steinbrenner, love him or hate him, put his stamp on the game.

The second person I’d vote for is Marvin Miller. Again I guy I don’t particularly like but whose influence on the game is great. Maybe the Player’s Union makes a strike more likely. Maybe free agency makes the movement of players more likely so that you never get a chance to fall in love with a favorite player on your team (but then a lot of really good players have been traded). Maybe it led to “rent a player”, but it led also to player emancipation and salaries that made the Black Sox scandal almost impossible. For all those good and bad things, we owe Marvin Miller. Few non-players ever had a greater effect on the game.

The only player I’m sure I’d vote for is Ted Simmons. I think he is terribly underrated. He wasn’t Johnny Bench behind the plate, and being a contemporary of Bench certainly hurt him, but he was a heck of a hitter and wasn’t a bad catcher. His SABR numbers are a lot better than his traditional numbers, which may hurt him with the committee, but he’d get my vote. There are others like Concepcion, Garvey, Blue, and John that I could be talked into if someone had a persuading argument, but can’t see voting for them just on my own reading of the information. I suppose, in fact, that I might be talked into voting for most of the list, that’s how close together they are.

There’s one other name I’d like to see  considered for the list, Dr. Frank Jobe. He invented “Tommy John surgery.” Considering how many players careers he has changed an argument could be made for giving him a slot in Cooperstown. Consider that, to use simply one 2010 example, Liriano led the Twins to a division title this season. Without Jobe’s pioneering work, Liriano doesn’t pitch and the Twins probably don’t win. There’s a lot of players like that, including Tommy John, of course. I don’t know that Jobe should be in Cooperstown, but I’d like to see his merits debated by both the committee and the public in general.

And finally, when the “Segregation Era” and the “Golden Era” vote comes up in the next two years, I’d like to see a couple of ladies from the 1940s girls league given consideration. I know there’s an exhibit on them, but it isn’t the same thing as being elected. There are a handful of them still with us and if they’re going to be enshrined, it needs to be quickly. Again, I’m not certain any of them should be elected, but I’d like to see the issue debated by fans and the Veteran’s Committee. It could be interesting.

Picking the Winners: Managers

November 12, 2010

The final of my thoughts on the next round of postseason MLB awards. I’ve said before that I have little idea how to evaluate managers, so this post is more in the nature of who I think should win rather than who I think will win. As to the latter, I have no idea.

NL-Bud Black. I think deep down inside that Dusty Baker will probably win this or maybe it will be Bobby Cox or yet again Bruce Bochy. All of them led their team in the playoffs and that’s generally rewarded. Baker took a team that wasn’t supposed to win and took down the favored Cardinals. For Cox it was his last season and he got the Braves to the wildcard. Sentiment alone might get him the award. Bochy took a team that didn’t hit a lot, but pitched well and won the division on the final day of the season (remember the voting is done before the playoffs begin so the writers don’t know Bochy’s team is going to win the World  Series). As I said, Bochy won on the last day of the season. He did it by beating the Padres, Bud Black’s team. The Padres were picked dead last in an already weak division. With good pitching, decent enough hitting to win close games, and a reasonably decent defense, the Padres took it to the last day. Baring that horrendous 10 game losing streak, they would have won the west. The manager of the Padres, Bud Black, gets my vote for the manager of the year. He had almost nothing to work with and came within an ace of knocking off the pitching rich Giants. He’d get my vote, but if pressed to pick who I think the writers will choose, I guess I’d go with Baker.

AL-Terry Francona. He has no chance, but you have to give him credit for the Red Sox successess this season. Do you know how many of the Red Sox first line everyday players played at least 130 or more games? Exactly four (Marco Scutero, Adrian Beltre, JD Drew, and David Ortiz). That means that half the team was out of the lineup for long periods of time and they still ended up 89-73. Only Drew started more than 50 games in the same outfield position (McDonald and Hall started 50, but not in the same position). A manager has to get some credit for keeping a team like that in contention until late in the season. Only Jon Lester and John Lackey started 30 or more games. Try winning with 60% of your starters getting into less than 30 games. Frankly, as I stated earlier, I don’t think Francona has a chance of winning, but he probably should. Francona is using mirrors and sitll winning. Not bad. And speaking of mirrors, the other guy I’d look at seriously is Buck Showalter. He was there a third of a season in Baltimore and that will surely hurt him. But he won with that team; something no one’s done for a long, long time. I keep asking myslef, “Did he really win with those guys?” Again, if pressed, I’d probably say the writers will pick Joe Maddon, but I wouldn’t. I’d also love to see Ron Gardenhire finally get the credit he deserves.