Archive for July, 2017

“Out, Damned Spot”…

July 28, 2017

Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act V, Scene 1). (Do you supposed she was trying to get the dog to go out for the night?)

Pie Traynor

Over at The Hall of Miller and Eric they’ve begun running a series rightfully castigating the Hall of Fame for leaving out some of the people who have been shunted aside (guys like Ted Simmons). They have their own Hall and one of the requirements is that the two Hall’s be the same size (excluding umpires and they’re in the midst to trying to figure out how to add Negro Leaguers). So that means for every guy they put in who isn’t truly in the Hall, they have to kick to the curb someone who is enshrined in Cooperstown (which doesn’t mean they put someone in, then toss someone else out). That’s not exactly how it works, but I trust you get the idea. It’s a site worth checking out, team. It’s also a project with some interesting ideas that are worth considering.

All of that got me to wondering about the bottom of the Hall (to use Kevin Graham’s phrase, “the bottom-feeders”). I’ve done a thing or two on the bottom of the Hall, but never actually sat down and went about trying to figure out in something like a systematic way who actually is the bottom of the Hall. These are the guys who, if they ever decided to pare down the Hall of Fame, should be the first shown the door. And before I go further, let me emphasize that I am in no way suggesting that these, or any other players currently enshrined, be ousted from Cooperstown (and neither are the Miller and Eric team). Once you’re in, you’re safely in.

What comes below is a 25 man roster with 2 men at each position, one reliever, and 8 starting pitchers that make up the lowest rung of the Hall of Fame. Although I have reservations about WAR as the be all, end all of stats (any stat existing in multiple versions is automatically suspect), it’s a good quick way to measure the players involved. I simply looked at Baseball Reference’s list of players by position and by WAR for each position and took the two (one, eight) guys with the least WAR for my team. As usual this easy system comes with a load of caveats. First, there are several managers (Stengel, Harris, Southworth, etc.) who show up on a position list and have less WAR than at least one other Hall of Famer on the same list. I excluded them as they are in the Hall as much, if not more, for their managerial acumen as for their playing ability. Second, I dumped guys who played way, way back (George Wright, Jim O’Rourke, Candy Cummings, etc.) because they played much or most of their career with shorter schedules, no mound, and in some cases (Cummings) a very different game. Finally Monte Irvin showed up as the left field Hall of Famer with the least WAR. I excluded him and would have excluded other similar Negro League stalwarts.

Got all that? Then here’s the list of the bottom of the Hall. I draw no conclusions from it (except as mentioned at the end of the article) and merely pass it along for those interested.

Catcher: Ray Schalk, Rick Ferrell

First Base: George Kelly, Jim Bottomley (ain’t it great that someone named Bottomley is in the bottom tier?)

Second Base: Johnny Evers, Bill Mazeroski

Shortstop: Travis Jackson, Rabbit Maranville

Third Base: Pie Traynor, Fred Lindstrom

Left Field: Lou Brock, Heinie Manush

Center Field: Hugh Duffy, Lloyd Waner (I know Duffy spent most of his career in the 19th Century, but he also played most of it after the advent of the pitching mound and longer schedules, so I added him.)

Right Field: Ross Youngs, Tommy McCarthy

Starters: Jesse Haines, Rube Marquard, Lefty Gomez, Jim Hunter, Herb Pennock, Jack Chesbro, Chief Bender, Addie Joss

Reliever: Rollie Fingers

OK, team, that’s the list. A couple of final points. First, these are not players who lost significant time to World War II or other long term military service (I thought there might be one or two of those). Both Joss and Youngs died while still active (at least more or less active) so their WAR is effected by that and it should be remembered. I decided to add them anyway. For what it’s worth, if you toss Joss off because of odd circumstances (like a death) then Waite Hoyt is his replacement. And Sam Thompson replaces Youngs. As a final bit of an aside, I remember when Pie Traynor was (in 1969) picked the greatest of all third basemen. Now he makes this team.

Still a formidable team.

 

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Quick, We Need a Pitcher

July 26, 2017

Lefty Grove with the A’s

With the trading deadline approaching, I note that a number of teams are shopping decent pitchers. I guess if you figure you’re not going anywhere, that’s not a bad idea. It certainly isn’t new. Throughout baseball history good pitchers have been dealt while still quality hurlers, although not necessarily during the season (all these examples occurred between seasons).

Back in 1918 the Philadelphia Phillies let Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander go to the Cubs. I’d like to say it got the Cubs the pennant, but it didn’t exactly. Alexander pitched a handful of games (3) then went off to war. Chicago did win the pennant by 10.5 games, but Alexander’s impact was minimal. What did the Phils get in return? They got Pickles Dillhoefer (one of the all time great baseball names), Mike Pendergast, and cash ($55,000). The next time Philadelphia showed up in the World Series was 1950, Alexander threw what is arguably the most famous strikeout in baseball history in the 1926 World Series. He threw it for St. Louis (which should tell you there was another trade).

Between the 1933 and 1934 seasons the Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Red Sox worked a trade. The BoSox got Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Grove (and Max Bishop and Rube Walberg) while the A’s got Bob Kline, Rabbit Warstler, and $125,000. It’s hard not to believe the cash was a major factor in the trade. Neither team got anywhere near the World Series and Grove still had 44.7 WAR left.

A bit more recently, the Cardinals unloaded Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, who had just put up a 20-9 win-loss record, to the Philadelphia Phillies (do you notice that both Philly teams show up a lot in these trades?) for Rick Wise between the 1971 and 1972 seasons. Wise didn’t do much, but Carlton went 27-10, led the National League in ERA, strikeouts, ERA+, put up 12.1 WAR, and won the Cy Young Award. He later got a call to Cooperstown. Wise? He went 32-28 for the Cards in two seasons and put up 7.7 total WAR.

Maybe it’s not a bad idea to get rid of a pitcher, even a good one. But sometimes it’s a mistake. The Dodgers used to say they liked to get rid of a player a year early rather than a year late. They may be good philosophy, but sometimes the guy just has more than one year left in him.

Fantasy and Morality

July 20, 2017

I’m in something of a philosophical mood today. Me doing my Kant/Wittengenstein impression might be a new internet low (which actually is tough considering some of the stuff on the internet), but here goes.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m in a fantasy league for the first time. We play Deadball Era ball and are currently doing the 1913 season. So far my team, which is decent but probably not a pennant contender is doing terribly. That creates a moral dilemma for me.  When the season is over, we draft for the new season in a fairly standard way. The bottom four teams go into a pot and are selected randomly by computer for their draft order, meaning the team with the fourth worst record could get the top draft pick, as could the third, second, or worst team. It’s a pretty fair way to keep a team from obviously “tanking” but it isn’t foolproof.

The problem is the 1914 draft includes a rookie pitcher named Babe Ruth. Heard of him? Bet you have.

So the question I ask myself is, “Self, do you want to ‘tank’ to pick up the Babe?” I’ve got a one in four chance (actually it’s weighted so the odds aren’t quite that cut and dried) of grabbing the best player ever and all I have to do is lose. That’s easy enough. My team isn’t that great (but it is pretty good and “tanking” would be fairly obvious).

Now remember, there’s no money involved, no trophy, and no real bragging rights (I wouldn’t know any of the other team managers if I saw them so I wouldn’t know when to brag), but, still, it is Babe Ruth.

I watch the TV show “NCIS” sometimes and there was an episode several years ago where the doctor on the show (played by David McCallum) was asked the difference between ethics and morality. His answer went like this (and I paraphrase): An ethical man knows he shouldn’t cheat on his wife. A moral man doesn’t cheat on his wife.

And so there I am in an ethical and moral dilemma. What to do? What not to do? Ah, the morass.

Judge vs. the Babe

July 18, 2017

Well, it took long enough, but I finally heard it. Someone the other day on national television compared Aaron Judge to Babe Ruth. I wanted to cry.

Judge

Aaron Judge is a heck of a player–so far. Let’s face it, the kid is a rookie and there have been a ton of rookies who had one great year, the first one. A number of them even won the Rookie of the Year Award then faded into obscurity. I have no idea what will happen to Judge during his career but I do know it is vastly unfair to compare him to the Babe.

The Babe with someone named Gehrig in 1927

Let’s start with a simple question, how good a pitcher is Judge? I could simply leave it at that (but you know I won’t, don’t you?) but I want to remind you that Ruth was possibly the best left-handed pitcher of the 19-teens. Of course in the late teens and in the 1920s he became a hitter and a national phenomena. He maintained a high level of excellence, with a few dips here and there, for almost two decades; first with his arm, then with his bat.

I hate these kinds of comparisons. They almost always hurt the new guy, because he can never, or at least almost never, live up to the hype. So could we simply sit back, enjoy Aaron Judge for what he gives us and also remember Babe Ruth for what he meant to both the country and the sport? It would be better for both Judge and the rest of us.

Jackie Robinson and Me put one over on the Methodists

July 13, 2017

Churches in my town were a step or 2 above this one

As I’ve said before, I’m feeling nostalgic a lot recently. Next month marks 50 years since I went to Viet Nam, so maybe that’s got me thinking a lot about my youth (which I lost on one morning in ‘Nam). But to go along with the picnic story, here’s another recollection that proves I could be something of an obnoxious kid.

The friend of mine who I mentioned in the church picnic story was on his church softball team in the local Church League. They had him at second base so that left a hole in center field where he might normally play. So he contacted me with an offer to join the team. There were two quick objections I raised:

“I’ve never played softball.”

“Just think of it as baseball with a bigger ball and tape on the bat.”

“I have a taped bat, but it’s because the thing is broken.”

” Well, these come with tape, broken or otherwise. What’s the second problem?”
“Don’t I have to be a member of your church?”

“Nope. There are a lot of little churches in town and a bunch of them can’t field a team.”

“Why don’t they field joint teams?”

“The theological ramifications of that would be impossible to explain, Dimbulb.”

“OK.”

“So as long as you know someone in the church, you can play. You know me.”

Solved that problem.

So I showed up at the first practice and they let me bat. The pitcher slung one in and I clobbered it. I mean I caught it right on the fat part of the ball and the sweet spot of the bat. I hit it so hard that in Little League or American Legion Ball or Junior High it was long, long gone. It made it most of the way to second base and I was out by several steps. It seemed you didn’t hit a softball like you hit a baseball. And three practices in I figured out I was never going to be able to drive the ball out of the infield. Well, there was always the bunt. That worked. In fact it worked really well and is the crux of this tale. BTW, I should be clear this is softball, not slow pitch softball where bunting isn’t allowed.

The church I was playing for had this guy who was terrible, but loved the game. So they made him a “spy.” They didn’t call him that, but his job was to go around and watch the other teams practice and see what he could find out. I had a job for him.

“Find out whatever you can on the third baseman.”

“Like what?”

” Can he come in on an infield grounder? Can he go to his left? Is he overweight?”

“Come again?”

“Old and overweight guys don’t move too well and are easier to bunt on.”

“Gotcha.”

The scourge of the local Church League was a small independent Methodist Church that had won the league trophy four years in a row. It was fairly small with a lot of working class families in it. It was staunchly fundamentalist and conservative and was sure God’s three greatest contributions to the human race were Jesus of Nazareth, chicken fried steak, and John Wesley. And depending on how close you were to dinner (or Sunday) the order could vary. But they were a terrific softball team. Their pitcher was pretty good, they hit well, and for a Church League Softball team they fielded reasonably well. Of course their third baseman was in his late 30s, overweight, couldn’t move (especially to his left), and had a decent arm (he was a third baseman after all). And we drew them for game one.

I hit lead off, my buddy Dave (he’s the guy in center in the church picnic story) hit second, the assistant pastor hit third, and “Tiny” Henderson of the picnic story hit cleanup. We could hit OK, but neither Dave nor I had any power at all. So of course I led off by dropping a bunt to the left of the third baseman. He stood there for a while not quite sure what to do. I’m not sure he’d ever seen a bunt. I am sure he didn’t have any idea how to field one. He finally huffed and puffed over to the ball, grabbed it and had enough sense to eat it rather than throw it away (overweight guys like me understand eating).

Now softball had (still has, I think) these strange rules about base running. You can’t lead off and you can’t take off until a pitched ball crosses home plate. Because of that most players plant one foot on the base  and they (and the foot) then face toward second so they can move quickly toward the next base. I took a standard baseball stance. One foot was just touching first and all of me was looking at home (except my eyes, which were on the pitcher). It was evident I wasn’t planning on stealing. Heck, I wasn’t facing the right direction.

The pitcher tossed the ball, Dave took ball one (at least I think it was a ball–I don’t remember after all these years) and the catcher cocked back to throw the ball to the pitcher. That’s when I took off. Being already in motion, the catcher couldn’t adjust his throw to get the ball all the way to second and the ball ended up in no man’s land somewhere near the pitchers circle. I was safe on second and the  Methodist’s erupted. They were screaming I’d left too early (how that was possible when the catcher had the ball was unclear). OK, Ump, then he wasn’t on the bag properly (my foot was facing the wrong direction). The catcher, the pitcher, the ball, and the Methodists manager were at first screaming at the ump. Me? I just wandered over to third, stepped on it, and reminded the third base umpire that no one had asked for time. He concurred. That set off another screaming fit, but at least this time someone asked for time.

And Dave was still at the plate. We were both old enough to remember Jackie Robinson and were both enamored of a play he used frequently. A slow roller (or a bunt) went to the third baseman and Robinson would trail along just behind the fielder. If the fielder threw to first, Robinson ran home. If the fielder turned to run Robinson back to third, the batter was safe on first. With an overweight, out of shape, Church League third baseman, the play was a no brainer.

Dave looked down at me, mouthed “Jackie,” and squared to bunt. It was a great bunt. The third baseman got to it finally, I was about two feet behind him. He stood, cocked his arm, and I raced by him. He saw me and, like the catcher, couldn’t stop his arm. All he could do was chuck the ball into that same area between first and the mound where the catcher had lobbed the ball and both Dave and I were safe. That led to the third baseman unleashing a string of words, most with four letters, that I didn’t know Methodists used.

It opened the flood gates. The assistant pastor doubled off a clearly rattled pitcher and “Tiny” Henderson put one so high and out of sight a couple of people decided it achieved orbit. The team put up five runs that inning and several more later (I forget the final score) and the Methodist spell was broken.

I’d like to say we won the league trophy that year, but we finished fourth, just ahead of the Methodists who never recovered from the opening loss. Mostly the team considered that a signal victory. I left for the Army before the next season, but Dave (who was a year younger) told me that they used the play again and the Methodist third baseman called him a whole bunch of things he’d not been called before, at least by a Methodist.

 

 

All Star Games

July 11, 2017

Do you really care about the All Star Game? I used to; I really did. I looked forward to the annual clash of National League titans against American League titans. On the same field you could see (or hear when we only had a radio) Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Ted Williams. In the 1960s you could watch Harmon Killebrew or Roger Maris or maybe Al Kaline stand in against Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax or Juan Marichal. It was wonderful, but something changed.

It’s not like the players aren’t worth watching anymore. In the last dozen or so years I’ve gotten to turn on the television and watch Albert Pujols and Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw and a host of other worthies. And they are as good as the players I saw 50 years ago. But something has changed. Maybe I’ve just gotten older and no longer see the players as heroes. That at least is true; I no longer see them as heroes (that died sometime in the 1960s) and I’ve certainly gotten older and more jaded in my view of people and the world.

Part of what’s wrong is that the game has gotten lost in the “events” that precede it. I really don’t care to watch a bunch of guys stand around and take batting practice just to see who can hit how many balls how far. Another part is that with teams in the National League now regularly playing teams in the American League it’s no longer special to see the confrontations. Way back when Mantle only faced Koufax in either the World Series or the All Star game. Today Trout can face Kershaw with some frequency on a Thursday night in May.

And I don’t think the game is taken as seriously. I know it’s supposed to have counted for home field in the World Series, but that didn’t make for significant difference in Series winners (or else Cleveland would be celebrating and Chicago would be waiting one more year). But when I watch it doesn’t seem that either the players or the managers take the game seriously. Maybe that’s because of cross league play or maybe it’s just the new generation of players and managers. Look how many players opt to miss the game.

The rosters are bigger so a lot of people are “All Stars” who probably shouldn’t be anywhere near an All Star game. With every team being required to send one player you have to expand rosters but 30 teams worth of players is a lot of players who weren’t going to be facing the other league’s big guns when there were only 16 teams. As a quick aside, maybe only the home team should be required to furnish a player. I mean if the last place Numbnuts are going to lose 100 games, tell me again why they should have an “All Star”?

Anyway that’s my rant for the day. I’ll be skipping the All Star game again, as I have for several years. It just doesn’t seem to matter any more.

Another Top of the Line (?) ESPN List

July 6, 2017

Well, being ESPN they’ve put out another one of their lists. This promises to tell us the current top 100 players in Major League Baseball. As usual, it’s a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous. I’m certainly not going to give you the entire list here, but I’ll do my standard job on it. I’ll give you the top player at each position (his spot in the list 1-100 will be the number in parenthesis) plus five pitchers (one of which has to be a lefty and one has to be a right-hander), a reliever, and the first player whose position is already taken will be the DH. Got all that? Good. So here we go.

1b Paul Goldschmidt (4)

2b Jose Altuve (10)

ss Carlos Correa (9)

3b Kris Bryant (6)

rf Bryce Harper (3)

cf Mike Trout (1)

lf Michael Conforto (42)

c Buster Posey (19)

P Clayton Kershaw (2), Chris Sale (5), Max Scherzer (7), Stephen Strasberg (20), Dallas Keuchel (22)

reliever Andrew Miller (36)

DH Nolan Arenado (8 and the second third baseman listed)

Francisco Lindor at number 11 is the highest rated player not to make the team. There are a lot of right and center fielders ahead of Conforto, but I wanted one guy in each position. The list also has a lot more infielders than outfielders high on the chart.

The list is on ESPN where you can check it out. If you don’t like it, take it up with ESPN.

 

Struck Down by a Baseball

July 4, 2017

A friend of mine tells this story. I won’t promise it’s accurate, but knowing him, I’ll bet it is true (at least mostly).

A brush arbor (a pretty fancy one)

Yearly when he was a kid (he’s about my age so this is probably the early to mid-1960s) his church celebrated the Fourth of July by having a big picnic. It was a decent sized congregation (I think he’s Southern Baptist, but am not sure which particular type of Baptist he is) and one of the members owned something of a ranch outside town a few miles.

Now in my part of West Texas there are some pretty fair-sized ranches. Considering how many acres it takes to sustain a cattle unit (that’s one cow and one calf for you big city Eastern types) you need a lot of land. Of course a lot of it is flat so it’s ideal for assembling a bunch of people. This place also had a river. “River” in the Texas Panhandle doesn’t mean quite the same thing that it means a lot of other places. There it defines an area where water occasionally trickles through a stream bed between the sandbars. The name of the river was the Ouachita (which is usually spelled Washita) which the local joke said was a Comanche word meaning “Sandbar.” (We use that same joke where I live now using Cherokee and Cimarron). But it did have trees along the banks, so you could have a shaded area to set up the food tables and, more importantly set up lawn chairs and create a “brush arbor (see the picture above), which is a shaded outdoor church with tree limbs for a roof (and usually no seats like the picture above shows). The brush arbor served as a place to hold a short end of picnic service to thank the Good Lord for a good time, a good day, good food, and a good country.

Of course all these picnics were alike. The group got together about 10 or 11 and set up tables, made the brush arbor, set out lawn chairs. The ladies of the church brought out their finest, mostly fried chicken, potato salad, beans, rolls, corn on the cob (you get the idea). His mom brought something called “coke salad” (I didn’t want to know). And the minister said a prayer then everybody dug in and pigged out until there was almost nothing left.

After taking some time to digest and talk about whatever it was that came up, the congregation broke into various groups. The younger kids went about playing whatever they wanted to play, the older folk continued to sit and talk. The younger adult women found an area where they could lay out a diamond and played softball. The men played baseball.

The men divided up into 2 teams with a couple of deacons as umpires (you do trust your deacon board to umpire, don’t you?). My friend was a pretty fair player so he played center field for one of the teams and led off. The pitchers weren’t very good, most of the fielders were overweight and out of shape, so scores tended to get out of hand (when they were kept, which seems to have been only periodically). But there were a couple of people who actually could play.

One was “Tiny” Henderson. I knew Henderson. He was one of those guys that was 6’6″ and 250 pounds. Guys like that are always called “Tiny.” And he could hit the ball a mile. He usually batted clean up for whichever team he was on and this time he was on the other team. So my friend started backing up when he saw the batter. His gag is Tiny was in one county and he was in another.

And of course Tiny got hold of one. It went back, my buddy went back, the ball went back, so did my buddy. Out beyond the area where the ball field was (there were no fences) a bunch of the older gentlemen of the church were having their annual Fourth of July confab talking about God, their war experiences, local politics, and other assorted items. I’d throw in talking about women but there were a lot of Baptist deacons involved, as was the minister.

As fate (or the Good Lord) would have it, the minister was standing with his back to the field and the ball caught him square in the back. He went down, the deacons gasped, Tiny stopped dead in his track, and my friend, being a serious ball player grabbed the ball and started to hurl it back toward the infield when he noticed that everyone, especially Tiny Henderson, was rushing to the minister. So he  held the ball, reached out and tagged Tiny and announced he was out. Ain’t it great that someone has his baseball act together?

But no one noticed. Everyone was crowding around the minister making sure he was alright. It seems he was. He got up and looked around. Tiny was crying and apologizing, the other players were trying to tell him it was an accident, and my friend was proclaiming Tiny Henderson was out (you gotta have your priorities right). It took a second, but the minister finally said something.

“Well, it’s better be struck down by a baseball than by the Hand of God.”

Mostly everybody agreed with him. But my buddy still proclaimed that Tiny was out and the run didn’t count. They decided to call the game (no one was keeping score) and go immediately to the evening service so the minister could go home and soak his aching back.

At least that’s the way my buddy tells it. And he still insists that Tiny Henderson was out.