Posts Tagged ‘Bob Boone’

The 1980 NLCS: All the Marbles

October 29, 2015

With the NLCS tied at two games each, Philadelphia and Houston squared off in the Astrodome for game five of the 1980 series. The winner went on to the World Series, the loser went home. For both teams winning would be a unique experience. Houston had never been to a World Series and Philadelphia hadn’t been to one since 1950.

Del Unser

Del Unser

Game 5, 12 October

To send the Astros to the World Series, Houston put Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan on the mound. Philly countered with rookie Marty Bystrom, who hadn’t pitched in the NLCS and was 5-0 in six total Major League games. At the beginning it looked like a bad choice. Astros lead off man Terry Puhl singled to start the bottom of the first, stole second, and came home on a Jose Cruz double. That put Houston up 1-0. But it didn’t hold up for even one inning. In the top of the second a single and walk put Manny Trillo on second and Garry Maddox on first. A ground out moved both up one base with two outs. Phils catcher Bob Boone singled off Ryan to plate both runs and put Philadelphia up 2-1.

That held up through the top of the sixth as Bystrom matched shutout inning for shutout inning with Ryan. In the bottom of the sixth, Denny Walling lofted a fly to left that Greg Luzinski misplayed into two bases for Walling. Then an Alan Ashby single tied up the game 2-2. In the bottom of the seventh Houston exploded for three runs as Puhl singled, came home on a Walling single after Cruz walked. A wild pitch by Phils reliever Larry Christenson brought Cruz home. Art Howe then tripled to score Walling.

But this was game five in 1980 and, well, it wasn’t extra innings yet, so Philadelphia came back in the top of the eighth. Three consecutive singles loaded the bases for Pete Rose. He coaxed a walk out of Ryan to make the score 5-3. A Keith Moreland ground out scored the second run. A single by Del Unser, playing right after pinch hitting earlier, and a triple by Trillo gave the Phils a 7-5 lead with six outs to go. They got two. Singles by Craig Reynolds and Puhl put runners on first and third and back-to-back singles tied the game at 7-7.

Philly got a  man as far as third in the top of the ninth but failed to score. Houston went in order in the bottom of the ninth and for the fourth game in a row, and four of five, the NLCS went into extra innings. With one out, Unser doubled. An out later, Maddox doubled plating Unser with the go ahead run. With Dick Ruthven now on the mound, a popup, a liner, and a long fly to center finished off Houston 8-7 and sent Philadelphia to the World Series, where they defeated Kansas City four games to two. Trillo was chosen NLCS MVP.

It was a great series of games, with four of five going into extra innings. Philly outhit Houston .289 to .233, but scored only one more run (20-19).  There was a major difference in the two team’s walks and strikeouts. Philly struck out 37 times and walked 13, while Houston struck out 19 times and walked 31. Greg Luzinski had the only homer for either team (in game 1) but Houston had five triples. Houston had a team ERA of 3.49, just slightly more than Philadelphia’s 3.28, while Philly pitching gave up 40 hits to the Astros’ 55.

Individually Manny Trillo led Philly hitters (players who appeared in all 5 games) by hitting .381 and racking up eight hits. Luzinski and Trillo both had four RBIs while Luzinski and Rose each scored three runs. Steve Carlton’s eight walks led both teams, while Nolan Ryan’s 14 strikeouts easily outpaced everyone else (of course it did).  Tug McGraw picked up two saves (and took a loss) and Dick Ruthven’s 2.00 ERA led Philadelphia starters with five or more innings pitched. Joe Niekro’s 0.00 ERA over 10 innings led all starters.

For a long time now, I’ve said that the 1991 World Series was the best I ever saw. But I’m not sure that for drama, emotion, and utter excitement that the 1980 NLCS wasn’t its equal.

the 1980 NLCS: Philadelphia

October 21, 2015
Lefty

Lefty

Unlike the Astros, the Philadelphia Phillies were, by 1980, something like perennial contenders. They’d made playoff runs in the late 1970s and by 1980 were in one again. Much had changed from those 1970s runs.

After a 30 game stint at the end of 1979, manager Dallas Green was in his first full season as manager. He led a team that finished first, second, or third in almost every major hitting category. It was also a team whose pitching numbers were all over the place.

Part of the problem with the pitching was that the staff was made up of one all-time great and a bunch of other guys. The other guys included starters Dick Ruthven (17 wins), Bob Walk (11 wins), Randy Lerch, Larry Christianson, and Nino Espinosa. Those were all the men who started a dozen or more games. Lerch and Espinosa had losing records; Ruthven, Walk, and Lerch all gave up more hits than they had innings pitched; and Espinosa walked more men than he struck out. Their combined WAR was 2.8. Of course Steve Carlton made up for much of the pitching problem. He went 24-9 with an ERA of 2.34 (ERA+ 162). He led the league in strikeouts ( by more than 80), wins, ERA+, and pitching WAR (10.2). At the end of the season he’d add his third Cy Young Award to his resume.

The bullpen featured ex-Mets hero (and Faith Hill’s father-in-law) Tug McGraw. He put up 20 saves with a 1.46 ERA (260 ERA+), and struck out 75 in 96 innings. Ron Reed and Dickie Noles had a handful of saves and as a whole, the bullpen was equal to, and some might say better, than the starters.

The infield consisted of one of the better known keystone combinations of the era and two potential Hall of Famers at the corners. Larry Bowa was a longtime member of the Phils. He hit .267, stole 21 bases, didn’t walk a lot. His OPS+ stood at all of 71 and his WAR at 0.7. The second baseman was Manny Trillo. He hit .292, had an OPS+ of 104, and was fourth on the team with 3.4 WAR. Cincinnati refugee Pete Rose held down first base. He couldn’t do much in the field anymore, but could still catch the ball. He hit .282 with 12 stolen bases, 185 hits (a critical stat for him), 95 runs scored, on OPS+ of 94, and -0.4 WAR (but +0.6 OWAR). Mike Schmidt at third had a beast of a year. He led the National League in home runs with 48, RBIs with 121, in total bases, in slugging, OPS, OPS+ (171), and had 8.8 WAR. At the end of the season he’d add the MVP to his list of accomplishments. As a third baseman he wasn’t all that great, but was taking a long, slow road toward improvement. Backups included John Vukovich, Luis Aguayo, and Ramon Aviles. Additionally, 38-year-old Tim McCarver got into six games, two at first ( and the rest as a pinch hitter).

The catcher was Bob Boone. Known more for his fielding than hitting, he was considered a good handler of pitchers and had a caught stealing rate of about 33%. Offensively he hit only .229, but logged nine home runs. His backup was Keith Moreland, who got into 62 games in his rookie campaign (he’d played in 15 total games the previous two years). He hit .314, and a 113 OPS+ (0.6 WAR), and was such a good catcher that he ended up playing 1226 games, 169 as a catcher.

The outfield  was in a bit of turmoil with five men getting into 100 or more games (and later Cubs darling Bob  Dernier adding 10 games). Much of the problem lay in left field. Regular left fielder Greg Luzinski banged up his knee and only got into 106 games. And when he was in, he wasn’t producing all that well. He hit .228 with 19 home runs (but did have 56 RBIs), struck out 100 times (but ended up with an OPS+ of 113), and finished with 0.4 WAR. And to top it off he wasn’t much of an outfielder. The problem was his replacement wasn’t much better in the field. Lonnie Smith was called “Skates” for a reason (he looked like he was on ice in the outfield). He did hit well. going .339, with 33 stolen bases (13 caught stealings), 69 runs scored, a 130 OPS+, and 2.3 WAR. Garry Maddox and Bake McBride held down the other outfield positions. Both were much better fielders than either left fielder. McBride hit .309 with 87 RBIs, 116 OPS+, and 3.2 WAR. Maddox had 25 stolen bases, hit .259, hit 11 home runs, had an OPS+ of only 80 (with 1.9 WAR), but was probably the finest center fielder in the league. The other outfielder with 100 or more games was Greg Gross. He hit .240 with no power, but, along with Del Unser, was used as a pinch hitter.

As with Houston, the Phillies were a flawed team. Beyond Carlton the starting pitching was suspect. The infield was better at defense than at offense (Schmidt excepted), and the outfield was in disarray (at least a little–Luzinski was back by the playoffs). They were favored, but not by a lot.

Rating Catchers

February 21, 2012

The "Tools of Ignorance"

With the sad and untimely death of Gary Carter, there’s been a lot of chatter about his place in the pantheon of Major League catchers, so i’m taking a short semi-break (you’ll see why “semi” in a few paragraphs) from my look at black baseball to make a few comments. I’m certainly not going to argue with those that place Carter in the top ten of catchers, because I agree with them. But I noticed a problem (actually problems) developing when I started to put together my own list of the ten greatest catchers.

The first problem of course is fairly self-evident. It’s the question of equipment. Take a look at the rudimentary equipment worn by guys like Buck Ewing way back. Basically, it’s an oversized work glove with some extra padding and a lot of prayer. Take a look at the equipment today. Which would you rather have if you were going to try to catch a Roy Halliday fastball? And that makes a world of difference in evaluating catchers. John Sayles when he did the movie “Eight Men Out” took great pains to be authentic. Take a look at the equipment Ray Schalk wears. Now Schalk was considered a tremendous catcher (without reference to his hitting) in the era. So was Johnny Kling a dozen years earlier. Give them a chance to use modern equipment and they might name their first-born after you. Give someone like Gary Carter a chance to use the old equipment and my guess is that after calling you things you didn’t know you could be called, he’d figure out how to make the best use of what he has available and still be a good catcher.

I remember listening to an interview with Roy Campanella way back in the 1950s. He didn’t particularly like the big “pillow” mitt in use then. He complained that it kept his right hand in constant danger of injury (and it was ultimately a hand injury that curtailed his stats in the year or so before his accident). I’m not sure Johnny Bench was really the greatest fielding catcher ever, but the innovation of the hinged mitt to replace the “pillow” certainly gave him advantages that other catchers had never had before. Now the right hand could be tucked behind the body when the bases were empty (and I’m astounded at the number of catchers who still don’t do that). Now it was possible to squeeze a pop foul rather than two-hand it. It helped Bench, along with his natural ability, to revolutionize the game.

And, of course, none of this has anything to do with hitting a baseball. Guys who are good catchers and hit well tend to go to the Hall of Fame. I might argue that the two best catchers I ever saw were Jim Sundberg and Bob Boone. Neither hit much, but were tremendous catchers. I don’t know many people who think either should be considered in the top 10 of a catching list. So we come again to a problem we see a lot. I mentioned it in a much earlier post on shortstops. It’s the question of how much reliance is to be put on fielding in establishing a player’s greatness. If the guy plays left field (Hello, Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez) no one cares if he’s a good, or even overly acceptable, fielder, when establishing his credentials for greatness. With catcher you can’t do that. It puts a burden on catchers (and shortstops also) that a lot of outfielders don’t have to carry. It’s not exactly fair, but it’s the nature of how the game is played. If I could hit, you could get away with me in left field. If I could hit, you could never use me behind the plate.

Finally, there’s the obvious question of segregation (see what I mean about “semi”?). Most lists of Negro League catchers put Josh Gibson, Louis Santop, Biz Mackey, and Campanella at the top of the charts at the position. We have some idea of the quality of Campanella (although he spent a lot of time in the Negro Leagues). The others never got to play in the white Major Leagues (Santop was dead by 1947). As usual for Negro League players, you’re stuck with anecdotes, not full statistical evidence, in trying to determine the quality of a player. So we make judgement calls (“Do I see a ’10’ from the Bulgarian judge?”) and hope we get it right. Considering that I’m certain that Campanella is a top 10 all-time catcher, I am confident in adding Gibson to a list of the best catcher, but I have no idea how you rate either Santop or Mackey. Maybe they’re in, maybe they’re out.

So having  just put all those caveats out there for you to read, here’s my list of the 10 best catchers ever in alphabetical order: Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Gary Carter, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk, Josh Gibson, Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez. With suitable apologies to Gabby Hartnett and to Joe Mauer, both of which might slip into the list. I think it’s the best list I can put together at this time. Notice that it’s full of modern guys (seven are post 1945). I think that the equipment has a lot to do with that.