Posts Tagged ‘Brooks Robinson’

Stability

September 4, 2017

Johnny Bench, Reds

Over at one of my favorite blogs, The Hall of Miller and Eric, they are running a “Mount Rushmore” of each team. As you might expect that means they are picking four players to represent the best of each franchise. But there is a kicker there. The player must have played his entire career with the same team. That means no Warren Spahn at the Braves, no Duke Snider with the Dodgers, no Yogi Berra with the Yanks (he had nine at bats with the Mets).

Now all that, especially the loss of Snider and Dazzy Vance with the Dodgers, got me to looking for players who spent their entire career with one team. Now it had to be significant time with the team, after all Moonlight Graham spent his entire Major League career with one team. I figured it would be loaded with old-time players, players who were faced with the reserve clause. Surprisingly, there were a lot of modern guys on the list. Here’s a list, in no particular order, of just a few of the players who never changed teams.

First base: Lou Gehrig, Jeff Bagwell, Willie Stargell

Second Base: Charlie Gehringer, Jackie Robinson (he was traded but never played for a second team, opting to retire instead), Craig Biggio

Shortstop: Cal Ripken, Luke Appling, PeeWee Reese, Phil Rizzuto

Third Base: Brooks Robinson, Chipper Jones, George Brett, Mike Schmidt

Outfield: Mel Ott, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Al Kaline, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski

Catcher: Johnny Bench, Roy Campanella

Left-Handed Pitchers: Whitey Ford, Carl Hubbell, Sandy Koufax

Right-Handed Pitchers: Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, Don Drysdale, Mariano Rivera

Not a bad lot, right?

One quick note. Honus Wagner came up with the Louisville Colonels and ended up with the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s not quite the same as being traded or leaving via free agency. Barney Dreyfuss owned both teams and when the National League contracted he moved all his good players to Pittsburgh and let Louisville go. I’m not sure how to deal with that, so I left him off. You might differ.

Sometimes You Just Gotta Take the Money

January 3, 2013
Brooks Robinson in the field

Brooks Robinson in the field

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been conned a few times, usually for something like who drives or who buys the beer. And I’m also basically an honest type so I don’t do a lot of that kind of thing myself. But sometimes you just got to take the money.

Way back in 1970 I was in the US Army and stationed in Germany. It was October and my interest turned to the World Series. For those of you too young to remember, that’s the Series that cemented Brooks Robinson’s reputation as the greatest gloveman of all time among third basemen. He won the Series MVP and the Baltimore Orioles rolled over the Cincinnati Reds to post Earl Weaver’s only World Series victory. And every bit as important for my purposes is that the Series was still played in the afternoon. That meant that I got to listen to it during the overnight period (I worked the graveyard shift), then could go to the enlisted  club and watch the tape-delay game in the afternoon without having to worry about who was going to win. I could just watch and enjoy the great (and not-so-great) plays.

But we had this guy, he was fairly new, who just simply didn’t understand what was going on. He never quite understood that the game had been played the previous night (our time) and that if you listened to AFN (Armed Forces Network) radio you already knew the score. It just never seemed to make sense that if you were watching a game being played in the daytime, it just couldn’t be daytime where we were.

With the Orioles up three games to none, a bunch of us sat down to watch game four.  The dolt mentioned above was one of them. He began by telling us “his” Orioles were going to sweep. I told him Cincy was going to win game four. He told me I was crazy. I told him the score was going to be 6-5 (I looked the score up on Retrosheet a few minutes ago). He laughed, informing me that Palmer was going to close out the Series.

“No, he isn’t.” (All conversations cleaned up from GI English and after 40 years, approximated.)

“Sure he is. Wanna bet?”

“Why not? Five bucks?” OK, so I’m a jerk, but sometimes you just can’t help yourself. Let’s face it, when someone is being that willfully stupid you just gotta take the money.

“Deal. Two to one.”

“OK by me.”

So I handed a five to the bartender, he gave the bartender a ten, and the rest of the guys at the table snickered. Well, sure enough the Reds won 6-5 and I picked up an easy ten dollars. The other guy was  stunned. We tried to explain to him about tape-delays and listening to the game in the middle of the night, but it just didn’t sink in.

The next night, Baltimore wrapped up the Series, Brooks Robinson was named MVP, and we all met in the afternoon to watch the crowning. Of course the guy was there, ready to put up money again that this time Baltimore would win it all.

“No bet, slick, because you’re right, the Orioles are going to win (9-3 according to Retrosheet). By the way (we wouldn’t have dared to say “BTW” back then), Brooks Robinson was the MVP.”

It seems he didn’t understand the nature of the past tense meant by the word “was”.

“That makes sense, but I’m not sure it won’t go to Blair (Paul).”

“Trust me, Robinson wins.”

Here came the deathless line again, “Wanna bet?”

Well, now I’ve got this terrible dilemma. What do I do? I’ve taken the poor fool’s money once. Do I do it again? You know the answer, don’t you?

“Sure. Five bucks again?”

“Deal, but no two to one.”

“Fine by me.”

So the bartender got two fives and we waited. The O’s won, Robinson was MVP and I was fifteen total dollars richer. I don’t know that he ever figured out how the turning of the Earth and tape-delay worked. I had a few months left and he had a couple of years to go. I was gone before the Super Bowl, but, geez, I wish I coulda got a bet down with him.

A Hitter’s Hall

March 23, 2012

Hank Aaron, a hitter in the Hall

Recently Bill Miller at “The On Deck Circle” completed an eighth part series on the Hall of Fame. If you haven’t read it, go to the blog roll at the right of this page, click on the site, and go read the articles. During that time, I did a post on Gary Carter and catchers. Baseballidiot commented that the Hall of Fame was pretty much “a Hall of Hitters”. Those two things got me to thinking about Cooperstown and how right Baseballidiot is in most situations. If you hit really well, there’s a good chance of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. If you field well and don’t hit a lick, forget it. So as a rule he’s right (obviously excluding pitchers), but there are exceptions and I’d like to point out a couple as examples of just how good you have to be to get into Cooperstown based primarily on your fielding.

I’m going to give you some stats on three players, one of which is in the Hall. The stats are batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage/on base plus slugging/home runs/ RBIs. The player’s careers overlap.

player 1 267/322/401/723/268/1357

player 2 273/359/487/846/370/1274

player 3 298/353/498/850/279/1028

Stop for a second now and ask yourself if all you know about a player is what’s listed above, is he a Hall of Famer? Whatever your answer to that question, player 1 is in the Hall of Fame. He’s Brooks Robinson and he’s, by general agreement, the greatest fielding third baseman who ever played the Hot Corner. The other two are Gil Hodges and Ted  Kluszewski (in that order), both first basemen from the 1950s (when Robinson started his career). The three of them are pretty much the same player, aren’t they? Klu has a higher average, Hodges more home runs, Robinson more RBIs. and the OPS is pretty much a wash (especially between Hodges and Kluszewski). But look at those numbers carefully and ask yourself the following: “If Robinson was a first baseman rather than a third baseman, would he be in the Hall of Fame?” Bet your answer is  either “No” or “I’ve been saying for years that Hodges and Klu were Hall of Famers.”  Here’s a case where the position and the ability to field it with superior skill overrides a good, but not great, batting line.

Heres’ another example using slightly different stats: average/OPB/SLG/OPS/stolen bases. These five don’t exactly overlap (the bottom guy is earlier) although the first four are teammates.

player 1: 262/337/328/666/580

player 2: 264/324/345/668/752

player 3: 295/333/396/729/352

player 4: 288/371/420/791/370

player 5: 260/299/367/667/27

Except for the wide swing in stolen bases they’re all pretty close, right? Again, ask yourself whether you put any of these people in the Hall based on their hitting stats. The players are, in order, Ozzie Smith, Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Lonnie Smith, and Bill Mazeroski. One and five are in Cooperstown and two through four aren’t. Again the difference (besides the era for Maz) is that both Smith and Mazeroski are considered very superior fielders and by general concensus are among the top two or three best fielders at their position in the history of the game. Again, take a look at Smith and Mazeroski’s stats and move them to the outfield where the other three played and tell me that the Wizard and Maz would be in Cooperstown.

You can do this same thing with catchers, although it’s a little trickier because you’re dealing with a Veteran’s Committee vote on such players as Roger Bresnahan, Ray Schalk, and Rick Ferrell. And I’ve always seen the Vet’s Committee as more easily swayed than the writers because of the small size of the Vet’s Committee, so that can make a great deal of difference in selection. 

Anyway my point is that Baseballidiot is pretty much dead on about the Hall as a haven for hitters. There are exceptions. But those exceptions have to be for truly superior fielders like Ozzie Smith, Bill Mazeroski, and Brooks Robinson.

1910: J. Frank Baker

July 7, 2010

Frank Baker

John Franklin Baker was born in Maryland in 1886. He played baseball well enough that Connie Mack brought him to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908. The next season he took over as the regular third baseman and stayed there through 1914. During his tenure the A’s won four pennants and three World Series championships. During the period Baker hit .321 and led the American League in home runs four times (1911-14) and in RBIs twice (1912 and 1913). As good as all that sounds, he was even better in World Series play. In three winning efforts (1910, 1911, and 1913) he hit .409 with three home runs and drove in sixteen runs. His slugging percentage was .621. In 1914, the Braves shut him down, along with pretty much everybody else, and the A’s lost. The three home runs in Series play tied or won ballgames and led to his nickname “Home Run” Baker. 

Baker sat out 1915 in a salary dispute with Mack. He spent the season playing in a semipro league in Pennsylvania. At the end of the season, Mack sold him to New York. He did alright with the Yankees, but he was never as good as he had been with Philadelphia. He hit .300 once, had double figure home runs twice (10 both times) and saw his slugging average drop badly. 

In 1920 his wife died and he took the season off to be with the children. He was back in New York in 1921 in time to make it to the World Series again (I was unable to find out if he remarried or not).  In 1921 he managed nine home runs to finish third on the team behind Babe Ruth’s 59 and Bob Meusel’s 24. The Yankees lost the series to the Giants with Baker contributing two hits (both singles) for a .250 average. His ground out to second with one out the ninth inning of the final game was turned into a double play when the runner on first, AaronWard, tried to steal a run by dashing to third. The throw to third was on target and the series ended. In 1922 he played one final year, hitting .278 in 69 games. He got into the World Series going 0 for 1 in a pinch hitting role. For his career he ended up with a .307 average, 1838 hits, 96 home runs, 1013 RBIs, on OBP of .353, a slugging percentage of .442, 235 stolen bases, and six triple crown titles in 5985 games, all at third base (except for pinch-hitting duties). 

After retirement he coached and managed a little. He’s credited with discovering Jimmie Foxx. He retired to his farm in Maryland and made the Hall of Fame in 1955. He died in 1963, arguably the finest third baseman of the deadball era. 

As a fielder, Baker was both good and mediocre (bear with me a second on that). His 3.43 range factor compares well with fellow Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and George Kell, but his fielding average is nothing to write home about. In his prime years, 1909-14, he was generally in the lower half of the league in fielding, but made up for it with decent range. One of the things I like about his fielding is that he got better. He started with fielding averages in the .920s and ended his career in the .950s. OK, those aren’t great numbers, but a lot of guys never get any better and Baker did. 

He has two number that I really like: 24 and 36. Those are the distance between his RBI totals in 1912 and 1913 and his nearest competitor. In 1912, Baker knocked in 133 runs. Sam Crawford at Detroit and Duffy Lewis at Boston each had 109 (Helps to have Eddie Collins, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker hitting in front of you, doesn’t it?) In 1913, he had 126. The next two guys behind him (again a tie) had 90. You don’t see that kind of domination often. In 1930, Hack Wilson set the Major League record for RBIs with 191. He won by 21. The following year Lou Gehrig set the AL record with 184. He also won by 21. Both Chuck Klein and Mickey Mantle won triple crowns. Klein won his RBI title by 14 and Mantle by only two. 

During his glory years, 1910-1914, Baker joined Cobb and Speaker as the dominant hitters of the age. And I guess that’s part of the knock on Baker. His glory years weren’t very long. But in those five years he won six triple crown titles (batting average, home runs, RBIs). So did Cobb. Speaker only got one. It’s not a bad legacy to say you could hold your own with Cobb and Speaker, even if only for five years. 

There haven’t been a lot of truly great third basemen in Major League history. In the Deadball Era there are only Baker and Jimmy Collins and I prefer Baker. With our without the nickname, Frank Baker is one of the top 10 third basemen ever and I could probably be talked into putting him in the top five.

Power at Third

January 4, 2010

Way back in 1969, baseball celebrated a centennial. It was the 100th anniversary of the Cininnnati Red Stockings, the so-called first professional team. The majors produced two lists, the greatest living team (DiMaggio was chosen the greatest living player) and an all-time greatest team (with Ruth as the greatest player). The problem arose at Third Base when the all-time team chose Pie Traynor.

Now it’s not that Traynor was a bad choice, it was that he was a terrible choice. Traynor represented that third baseman who was a wonderful fielder, and OK hitter, and a man devoid of power. There had been a lot of them in baseball history and they were decent players. And if they were really, really good third basemen they might have saved their teams a dozen or so runs  season. The problem was that they weren’t producing a lot of runs themselves.

When the Traynor choice was made, it’s not like major league baseball didn’t have a handful of power hitting third basemen to choose from. Of course, maybe that was the problem. There were only a handful and it was tough to take them seriously because the long history of third basemen had been overwhelmingly of good fielders who, if they could hit for average, were potential Hall of Famers.

But third base produced a series of power hitters over the first 69 years of the 20th Century, there just weren’t very many of them. There was Home Run Baker who led the American League in home runs four times. It was the dead ball era and he never hit more than 12 in a season (and the “Home Run” nickname came from World Series play, not the regular season championships). There was Harlond Clift who managed to hit 178 home runs in the 1930s and early 40s. But he’d played in St. Louis for the Browns and in Washington, two of the most obscure places a 1930’s-40’s player could inhabit. Then came Al Rosen and Eddie Mathews. Both were legitimate power hitters who led their leagues in home runs, Rosen even winning an MVP. Rosen had a short career and Mathews was still playing. Of course there was Brooks Robinson who already had an MVP award, a lot of home runs, and was by 1969 already acknowledged as the finest fielding third baseman ever.

So why Traynor? Got me. My guess is that they wanted to honor an old-time player, wanted to stay away from current players like Robinson and Mathews (there was a living player category after all), and just couldn’t get over the old idea that third basemen weren’t supposed to be power hitters. I’m glad they didn’t do this list in 1989, because I’m afraid of what they would have done to Mike Schmidt and George Brett.