Archive for October, 2016

The Catcher Question

October 27, 2016
Buck Ewing's Hall of Fame plaque

Buck Ewing’s Hall of Fame plaque

Recently somebody asked me who I thought were the greatest catchers ever. I made the appropriate reply, “Got me.” I think that rating catchers is the hardest rating job in baseball (well, maybe pitchers). The position is so different and so many factors that don’t weigh on other positions come into play that I don’t think any of us have yet come up with a definitive set of statistical information to answer that simple question.

There are a lot of reasons this is true. Let me give you one quick example: Buck Ewing. How good was he? It is evident from the information we have that he was a great, great player. But he was a great, great player in a game that was different from the modern game. Ewing’s career spans the 1880s and 1890s and for almost all the 1880s and the first part of the 1890s pitchers were restricted on how they could throw, and however they threw, they didn’t do it from a mound 60″6′ away from a home plate that was shaped differently than the modern one. Also, Ewing is a catcher. And that really does matter. “The tools of ignorance” are still evolving today and in the 1880s were in their infant stage. His glove might have kept his hand warm in winter, but wasn’t going to do much else. There was some padding, but not much. According to SABR, the catcher’s mask was an Ivy League invention of the mid 1870s and was essentially an adaption of the fencing mask. The chest protector comes in the early 1880s and is sometimes credited to Deacon White (again according to SABR). Flimsy is the operative word here. So how good was Buck Ewing at doing his fielding job? Well, the numbers show him not bad for 1880, but simply lousy for today. And part of that has to do with the equipment he’s using. And that’s a major problem with comparing catchers. The equipment today is just better.

We also have to deal with a factor of American history: segregation. By general consensus the best Negro League catchers were (alphabetically) Josh Gibson, Biz Mackey, and Louis Santop. How good were they? Again, “Got me.” I have some records available, but they are spotty and almost all of them are hitting, not fielding records. At the current stage of our knowledge we can determine that the Negro League catchers were good, but exactly how good is still a question.

And for course for catchers, fielding matters. Most people who saw both Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski play will tell you that Yaz was the better fielder. And nobody cares. If you hit like Williams no one cares if you can catch, they’ll find a place to play you (Hello, Harmon Killebrew). Greg Maddux was a superior fielding catcher and no one ever said that about Randy Johnson. Why? Because deep down inside no one cared. Maddux was there to pitch and if he could field well then that was gravy. Johnson had less gravy but did his main job more or less as well and that’s what mattered. It doesn’t work that way with catchers (and shortstops). You have to be able to field your position and with all the work that SABR and Bill James and the various stat guys have done, fielding stats are still a work in progress, and catching stats are less far along than other positions (probably because there are so many more to consider).

Until these problems are solved answering the “greatest catcher” question is at best a crap shoot, although by now we can call it a more “educated” chap shoot than it used to be when I was a kid. I am comfortable in saying that almost all the “greatest” catchers played since World War II (with possible exceptions like Ewing, Gabby Hartnett, and the 3 Negro Leaguers I mentioned above). Beyond that I’m shooting craps with everyone else.

Doing My Arnold Schwarzenegger Impression

October 12, 2016
Arnie

Arnie

My wife and I are taking a couple of weeks to head out and see our son, daughter-in-law, our granddaughter-in-law, our grandkids, and our great granddaughter. I’ve neither written nor researched a bunch of stuff and stored little missives to post at intervals while I’m gone. So I’m telling you that for the next two weeks you’ll be wasting your time coming here and expecting new and thrilling items. Instead, go hug your kids, or significant others, or friends, or cats.

But like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I promise “I’ll be back.” (Said in an Oklahoma drawl rather than an Austrian accent).

 

Games in April

October 10, 2016
Cards logo

Cards logo

How many times have you heard some idiot talking sports head on TV or the radio or the internet tell you “It’s only April. The games don’t matter until August” or at least heard words to that effect? I’ve heard it a lot. Unfortunately I have to admit I’ve probably even said it. We all like the comfort of it, but if you think about it, we al so all know it’s utter nonsense. A case in point–the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals.

In case you didn’t notice the Cardinals didn’t make the playoffs although they won the last game of their season. They lost the final playoff spot to the San Francisco Giants (of course they did, it’s an even numbered year) by one, count ’em, one game.  On 5 April 2016 the Cards played the Pittsburgh Pirates and lost 6-5. On that same date the Giants played the Milwaukee Brewers and won 2-1. There it is, team, the critical game of the season. Had St. Louis won that one game, then they would have been in a one game playoff to see who got to face the New York Mets in the wildcard game. But, nope, they lost and in doing so lost the chance to tie the Giants and go on toward a possible pennant and World Series date.

Now I know you’re going “wait a minute, they lost a bunch of games, most of them after 5 April.” And you’re right. Any one single win by St. Louis would change the nature of the playoffs in the National League. My point isn’t so much that they lost on 5 April, but that the idea that early season games don’t count as much is just plain silly. So the next time you hear someone say it (and you undoubtedly will in April 2017) remind yourself that this particular so-called expert is an idiot (even if it’s me you hear say it–or type it).

And now on to the playoffs. Congrats to all the winners (and to you, Bloggess, on your Orioles). And Go Dodgers.

Picking the Winners for the Latest Vet’s Committee

October 7, 2016

Well, we have the newest version of the Veteran’s Committee getting ready to make its call for the Hall of Fame (5 November). The ballot is posted below and I always make my choices for enshrinement. This year is no different, but the way I’m going at it is.

Let me start with the players (Baines, Belle, Clark, Hershiser, McGwire). It’s not like there’s a bad player there, but there’s not much to be excited about either. McGwire has the steroid issue, Hershiser is known for one season (and more like two months), Clark was great for a few years and got hurt, Belle was a monster (ask Fernando Vina about it) but also got hurt, and Baines may be the ultimate in compiling numbers over a long, long time. It’s not like any of them is exactly a bad choice, it’s just that none of them are an inspired choice. I wouldn’t be overly upset if any of them got in, and in Albert Belle’s case I’d certainly tell him I’m all for him if he asked (I very much value my continued good health), but then again if none of them got in, I wouldn’t be overly upset either. So I guess all that means I wouldn’t, as a member of the committee, vote for any of them.

The managers are quite a different story. I loved Lou Piniella. He had fire, he had savvy, he could win with weaker teams. Davey Johnson seemed to win when he had good teams and lose with weaker teams. Like Piniella he won it all once (in 1986, before the current committee’s beginning date of 1988) and went to the playoffs a lot. But I’m setting both aside because I think the people who set up the ballot made a huge blunder here. Where the heck is Jim Leyland? Like Piniella and Johnson he made the playoffs a bunch and won it all once (1997). He’s a three time manager of the year winner, as is Piniella (twice for Johnson). Of course I’ll admit his winning percentage is lower than either of the others, but he spent time making the Pirates a winner and had to put up with Loria at Miami and still won a World Series. I’m not about to vote for the other two without being able to at least consider Leyland.

For the executives I know I would vote for John Schuerholz. He built winning teams in both Atlanta and Kansas City. Granted the KC team already had Brett and Willie Wilson and many of the others, but Schuerholz added the players necessary to get to the 1985 championship. The other two, Bud Selig and George Steinbrenner have decent cases (and I expect Selig to make it in November), but I have a personal preference for one executive at a time, so Schuerholz gets my nod.

When I first thought about this list I got a call from my son. We spent time talking about a lot of things, including the Vet’s Committee vote. He had a suggestion, which I pass along to you. Currently there are 4 Veteran’s Committees. He suggested pushing it to five. Now hear me out before you scream too loud, “They already have four and you idiots want to jump to five?” His idea was that the four current committees confine themselves to players and that a new fifth committee meet periodically (the frequency can be determined) to vote strictly on non-players (managers, owners, executives, contributors, Negro Leagues, etc.). This would allow the current committees to concentrate more on players while the new committee did all the others. Frankly, I think it’s a decent idea. They’ll never do it because then the current committees would never elect a player. In all the time they had the three previous committees they elected two total players: Deacon White and Ron Santo. They did elect a handful of non-players and taking those away would require the committees to focus on players. Maybe they wouldn’t elect anyone and maybe they shouldn’t. Anyway I thought it an idea worth passing along.

A Sad Anniversary

October 6, 2016
Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of Sandy Koufax’s last Major League game. He lost game two of the 1966 World Series on this date, then retired. It was, when we watched it, or in my case listened to it (I was in school and most of the game was on radio) just another World Series game. True, it was one the Dodgers lost on the way to a four game sweeping by the Baltimore Orioles, but no one knew we were watching and listening to the end of legendary career. And yes, 50 years ago the World Series ended by mid-October, not early November.

Five years later Koufax became a first ballot Hall of Famer, which cemented his status as a living legend. There are few of those. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle are some (although Mantle is now gone). It doesn’t seem like it was fifty years ago that I watched that graceful Koufax delivery or for that matter watched Mantle’s powerful swing.

To those of you too young to see Koufax (or Gibson, or Mantle, or a host of others from my youth) I offer my condolences. They really were that good. And when you reach my age I hope you will be able to say the same thing to your kids about your youthful heroes.

 

New Veteran’s Ballot Announced

October 4, 2016

After revamping the Veteran’s Committee (s) for the 1000th time (give or take), the Hall of Fame just announced its newest ballot. This one is for the Vet’s Committee now known as “Today’s Game.” It covers the last handful of years (since 1988) and includes the following names:

Players: Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Mark McGwire;

Managers: Lou Piniella, Davey Johnson (who might also be considered a player);

Executives: John Schuerholz, Bud Selig, George Steinbrenner.

The election will be 5 December 2016 by a 16 member committee. For election an individual must get 75% of the vote (12 voters).

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1932

October 3, 2016

The 1932 baseball season saw Babe Ruth make his last World Series appearance. It marked John McGraw’s last season as a manager. And in this blog universe it ushers in the next class of My Own Little Hall of Fame.

 

Louis Santop

Louis Santop

Louis Santop was a slugging catcher for the Negro Leagues from 1909 through 1926. Considered both an excellent fielder and a great hitter, he spent time with the Lincoln Giants and later with Hilldale. While at the latter he participated in the first two Negro World Series, helping his team to a victory in 1925.

Bobby Veach

Bobby Veach

Outfielder Robert “Bobby” Veach played in the American League from 1912 through 1925. While with Detroit from 1912 through 1923 he won three RBI titles, two doubles titles, and led the league with 191 hits in 1919. As a defender he led the league in putouts and assists on several occasions.

Commentary:

1. Once the decision was made to add Negro League players to this fictional Hall of Fame, Santop became an easy choice. Most places that try to rank Negro League players rank him as easily the second or third best catcher (behind Josh Gibson and in competition with Biz Mackey) of the leagues. He was noted for good hands as well as a big bat.

2. It is a surprise to me that Veach isn’t already a Hall of Famer. He was excellent and deserves another look by the Veteran’s Committee the next time his era’s committee comes up. BTW I note that his Baseball Reference.com page is sponsored by our buddies at The Hall of Miller and Eric. Good for them.

3. The list of eligible everyday players for 1933: George Burns, Cupid Childs, Jack Daubert, Jack Fornier, Larry Gardner, Heinie Groh, Baby Doll Jacobson, Tommy Leach, Herman Long, Bobby Lowe, Tommy McCarthy, Stuffy McInnis, Clyde Milan, Wildfire Schulte, Cy Seymour, Roy Thomas, Mike Tiernan, George Van Haltren, Zack Wheat, Ross Youngs (a total of 20 with a maximum of 20 allowed).

4. The pitchers: Babe Adams, Chief Bender, Jack Chesbro, Wilbur Cooper, Walter Johnson, Sam Leever, Rube Marquard, Tony Mullane, Deacon Phillippe, Bob Shawkey, Jesse Tannehill, Doc White (a total of 12 with a maximum of 10 allowed).

5. The contributors: umpires-Bob Emslie, Tim Hurst; manager-George Stallings; owners: Barney Dreyfuss, Charles Ebbets, August Herrmann; Negro Leagues-Pete Oliver Marcell, Jose Mendez, Dobie Moore, Spottswood Poles; and pioneer William R. Wheaton (a total of 11 with 10 being the maximum).

6. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Walter Johnson makes it next time.