Archive for January, 2018

RIP Oscar Gamble

January 31, 2018

Oscar Gamble and ‘Fro

Saw that one time Yankees outfielder Oscar Gamble died at age 68. He was, by now, probably more famous for his hairdo than for his baseball skills. But he hit .265 with 200 home runs in 17 years. He made the World Series in 1976 and 1981, playing with a losing team each time. He retired in 1985.

He liked to say he had the biggest Afro in baseball. Most people agreed.

RIP, Oscar.

Advertisements

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Rip Williams

January 30, 2018

Rip Williams (from Find a Grave)

Continuing a look at the players who make up my fantasy baseball team, here’s some things you ought to know about one of them.

1. Alva Mitchel Williams was born in 1882 in Carthage, Illinois to a farming family..

2. He was good at baseball and in 1906 began his minor league career as a catcher for Keokuk in the Iowa League. He stayed through 1907. In late 1907 he was traded to Terre Haute in the Central League. It was a step up to a higher league.

3. In 1909 he moved on to Buffalo, a Class A league, and got the attention of the big leagues. The Red Sox signed him for 1911.

4. He hit .239 for Boston filling in at both first and behind the plate. He demanded a raise for 1912 and was sent to the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees) who subsequently shipped him on to Washington (the Senators, not the current Nationals).

5. He started the 1912 season as the third string catcher for the Senators, but injuries put him into the lineup on a more frequent basis than a normal third stringer. He hit .318 for the season. It was his career high.

6. Having no power, he hit his first home run in 1913. It was a pinch hit, an inside the park homer, and his first home run at any professional level, Major or Minor League.

7. He remained with Washington through 1916, then was traded to Baltimore (a minor league club in 1916). He played the entire year in the minors.

8. He was back in the big leagues in the war year of 1918, playing for Cleveland. In a bit of symmetry Aristotle would love he hit .239, the same as he hit in his rookie campaign.

9. He went back to farming after his baseball career ended.

10. For his career, his triple slash line reads .265/.328/.352/.680 over 1186 at bats in 497 games. He had two home runs (the other a three run shot in 1914), 23 triples, 51 doubles in 314 hits for 417 total bases and an OPS+ of 97. He had 145 RBIs and racked up 5.3 WAR.

11. He died in Keokuk in 1933.

12. I have been unable to determine the origin of the “Rip” nickname.

Random Musings on the Class of 2018

January 25, 2018

A few random thoughts on the Hall of Fame Class of 2018:

1. First, congratulations to Jack Morris, Alan Trammell of the Veteran’s Committee and Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, and Jim Thome on election to the Hall of Fame.

2. There is a certain amount of hope for both Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina for next year. Both showed a rise in percentage of votes, with Martinez landing over 70%. He ended up 19 votes short of election.

3. The bad news for Martinez is next year is his last year on the writers ballot. At 70% it should still be relatively easy for him to make the Hall.

4. The next three guys down ballot were Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens. The one I’m most interested in is Schilling. It seems his post career activities are hurting him (some writers admit it) and I’m not sure whether to accept that as a legitimate concern or not. The “character clause” is so ill-defined as to allow for about anything to be considered “good character” or “bad character” and doesn’t seem to know whether those definitions (such as they are) involve on the field issues, baseball related issues, or just about everything a fellow does. Is having unpopular political views “bad character” or not? Is cheating on your wife “bad character” or not? I have my opinion, but it’s strictly my opinion and it seems the Hall is allowing every voter to have his “my opinion” and that leads to all sorts of swings in meaning. Personally, I presume the “character clause” to relate strictly to those things that directly effect a player’s baseball career. I’m not sure how much Babe Ruth running around on his first wife changed what he did on the field (maybe yes, maybe no). I do know that Joe Jackson joining in throwing a World Series (and that’s 100 years next year) effected baseball. I also know that we may not think much of Ty Cobb’s views of race, but in 1910 a lot of people agreed with him (it’s possible to say he was even in the majority in 1910), so we have to be careful how much the standards of our time effect how we look at players who played even just a few years back.

5. The purging of voters and adding of new guys didn’t seem to help either Clemens or Bonds much. They’re up a little with four years remaining on the ballot. It will be interesting to see how much movement there is over the four years. It’s possible they’ll get there in four years, but I’m still betting on the writer’s kicking it to the Veteran’s Committee and letting them make a final decision. That could be particularly interesting as the Hall does present the Committee with a ballot and forces them to confine their vote to the 10 people listed. The appearance of any of the steroid boys on a ballot (McGwire would come first) will tell us something about the Hall’s own stand on the issue.

6. Next year is a walk over for Mariano Rivera. The guy I’m most interested in his Todd Helton. He played in Colorado and that seems to matter a lot to voters. We’ll see what happens (see Walker, Larry).

7. I love the idea of “light” votes and “dark” votes. That’s the way they’re describing the votes. Light votes are those that were published prior to election and dark votes aren’t. Kinda catchy. I wonder if anyone’s tried to use “Hey, kid, I have a dark ballot for the Hall of Fame” as a pickup line?

The Hall elections are always fun and next year promises more of the same. Ain’t it grand?

Watching the Tracker

January 22, 2018

Jim Thome

Wednesday marks the announcement of the latest class in the Hall of Fame. It appears to be a significant class.

I’ve been following along with the balloting by checking in on a Hall of Fame Tracker run by Ryan Thibodaux. He scours the internet and social media looking for Hall of Fame voters who announce their ballot early. He then posts a running total without commentary. It’s a quick and convenient way to keep track of who’s in and who’s out.

As I type this he’s recorded a little less than 50% of the total voters. It’s possible to see as many as six or as few as three players enshrined in Cooperstown. Polling at over 90% (remember that’s 90% of the 50% recorded, not 90% of the total vote) are Vlad Guerrero, Chipper Jones, and Jim Thome. Edgar Martinez is at 80% while both Trevor Hoffman and Mike Mussina are in the 70% range (Hoffman just over 75% and Mussina just under the magic line). Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds are all in the 60% range, with Schilling being just ahead of the other two. Larry Walker is the only other player above 40%.

Depending on the way the other 50% of the vote goes Martinez and Hoffman are currently in and Mussina will just miss. The other three would almost have to totally whiff on the rest of the votes to fail election.

I’m not sure what I think of all this. I’m not a supporter of the “steroid boys” getting elected, so I’m OK with them waiting another year. I’m happy to see Walker doing well and thrilled that Edgar Martinez is finally getting his due. Even if he doesn’t make it this year, it’s a good sign for next year. And Hoffman I would support, but he’d be toward the bottom of my list of 10. He’d certainly come in below Mussina. But it’s also a good sign that Moose is moving up the line enough. We might see him jump over the magic 75% next year (or just maybe this year). I also wonder how much the utterly ill-defined “character clause” is effecting Schilling. Don’t care much for his politics, but they’re not electing him mayor, they’re electing him to the baseball Hall of Fame.

So there the vote stand less than a week from the big reveal. Good luck to all six who are close and the others can remember the old Brooklyn cry, “Wait ’til next year.”

 

Having just gone through a major family crisis, I’ve been away from here for a while (except for the post just below). Although the problem isn’t yet completely solved we’re mostly through it, so I hope to get back to something like a regular musing again. Thank you for your patience.

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.