Posts Tagged ‘Carlton Fisk’

Thoughts on the Class of 2015

January 7, 2015

Yesterday the Hall of Fame chose Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz for enshrinement. It’s being touted as the largest class chosen by the writers since 1955 and one of the largest ever. Here are some thoughts on the election.

1. Nothing in the world wrong with the four candidates elected. All have solid cases for enshrinement and I’m glad to see each get in.

2. Mike Piazza was the candidate who came closest to election without getting a plaque. I’m not quite sure what to do with Piazza. I personally think he’s Hall worthy, but I understand that many of the writers are worried about PED issues. Apparently less are worried each year and less are worried than are worried about either Clemens or Bonds. Writers seem not to know what to do about catchers. Of all catchers currently in the Hall only Johnny Bench is a first vote member. That means that Yogi Berra, Yogi Berra for God’s sake, isn’t a first ballot Hall of Famer. Neither is Roy Campanella, nor is Carlton Fisk, nor Gary Carter. And I suppose I can probably push that out all the way to Joe Mauer (who I think will make it). I’m not certain why this is true. My guess is that catchers put up smaller numbers than players at other positions and no one’s quite sure how you quantify catching stats, so there’s a certain reluctance to add them to the Hall of Fame. That’s also a guess on my part.

3. Staying with Piazza a moment, it looks like he will become the test case for PEDs. If he gets in, and so far his trajectory is toward election, then we’re going to have to face the issue head on. Because if he says, after he’s in (not after he’s elected, but after the ceremony makes it official) that “Yeah, I used the stuff,” then they can’t throw him out and they can’t say “No PED users in the Hall” because they’ve already got one. That will force the door open for the others. In all that I don’t mean to imply that I know or believe that Piazza was a PED user, merely that there is doubt in some minds.

4. I don’t understand the Bonds/Clemens votes. If you think PED use is not a disqualifier for the Hall of Fame, surely you believe they have the numbers for election. If you think PED use is a  disqualifier surely you don’t vote for either. I’m not quite sure why they ended up with different vote totals (206 for Clemens and 202 for Bonds). Did four voters actually think Clemens should get in and Bonds not? I guess so. And I further guess that the BBWAA is very unpredictable. BTW, I note that my “strategic voting” idea from last year (“How the heck did someone not vote for Maddux?”) is now being gloried in by some of the voters. I take full credit. 🙂

5. On a personal level in my post on my ballot I voted for 10. Seven of them ended up being the top seven vote getters. The other three all received enough votes to remain on the ballot.

6. That’s not quite true. It was the 15th and last chance for Don Mattingly. He didn’t get in and now must wait for the Vet’s Committee. Alan Trammell (who I chose) faces the same situation next year with Lee Smith and Mark McGwire (who I didn’t select) one year later. Smith has benefit of the 15 year rule, while McGwire does not.

7. Of the first timers on the ballot, Gary Sheffield and Nomar Garciaparra were the only one’s who got enough votes to stay alive for next year (and Garciaparra did it by only 0.5% of the vote). It doesn’t bode well for either in subsequent years, but I’m glad each stayed alive so we can take another year to review their cases for election. Right now I’m inclined to pass on Sheffield and I frankly don’t know what to do with Garciaparra.

8. Now on to 2016 and the arrival of Ken Griffey on the ballot. Also available next year will be Trevor Hoffman, Jim Edmonds, Mike Lowell, and David Eckstein. I don’t expect much support for either Lowell or Eckstein, but will be most interested to see how Edmonds does.

9. Finally, again congratulations to this year’s new Hall of Famers. Enjoy the moment, guys.

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A Great Age for Hitting Catchers

July 3, 2013
Joe Mauer's Wikipedia picture

Joe Mauer’s Wikipedia picture

Ever look over a list of  Hall of Famers? One of the things a lot of people mention after doing so is “Geez, there’s not a lot of third basemen in the Hall.” That’s true. But it’s also true of catchers. Excluding 19th Century players, there are a dozen each third basemen and catchers in the Hall. It’s a hard position, catcher, to play.

But we are living in a great age for catchers that can hit. There have been a few of those, but not many. In the 1930s you found Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, and Gabby Hartnett playing at the same time. In the 1950s there was Yogi Berra and there was Roy Campanella. Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk overlap in the 1980s. And in the last 15 or so years, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing a new group of them that may (or may not) be as good, but are certainly a deeper pool of fine hitting catchers. Going back to the turn of the century, Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez were still productive players. In the 21st Century we’ve added three more.

Did you know that prior to 2006 catchers won only three batting titles: Ernie Lombardi twice and Bubbles Hargrave? Since 2006 catchers have won four. Joe Mauer has three and Buster Posey one. And this year Yadier Molina (who has in the last few seasons resolved any doubt as to which Molina brother was the best) is leading the National League. He probably won’t stay there, but to have a catcher leading the NL on 1 July is amazing.

So let’s all set back on our Fourth of July break and enjoy a ballgame. And while we’re at it, take a second to revel in the quality of good hitting catchers that are available to us. It’s very rare.

The 50 Greatest Red Sox

April 20, 2012

The Birthday Boy

In honor of the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, ESPN Boston just released its list of the 50 Greatest Red Sox. It’s an interesting list and frankly not a bad one, although I would disagree with some of the selections. Here’s a list of their top 10 in order: Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Tris Speaker, Pedro Martinez, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, Lefty Grove, and Bobby Doerr. Before you ask, Jim Rice is 11th.

Again, not a bad list but I wonder how much Clemens rancorous departure and the subsequent steroid controversy contributed to his rank below both Martinez and Young. I’m a little surprised Grove is a top 10 over Wade Boggs or Rice, but why not. You got to admit, that’s one heck of an outfield, isn’t it?

In case you’re interested it takes all the way to 30th to get a full team. According to this listing, the best Red Sox team is:

Infield: Foxx, Doerr, Joe Cronin (18th), and Wade Boggs (13th)

Outfield: Williams, Yastrzemski, Speaker

Catcher: Carlton Fisk (14th)

DH: Rice (11th and the first position player who would not have a regular spot in the field, hence he’s the DH)

Left Handed Starters: Ruth and Grove

Right Handed Starters: Martinez, Young, and Clemens

Closer: Dick Radatz (30th)

Agree? Disagree? Fine, but compliment or complain to ESPN: Boston, it’s their list.

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.

Game Six: The Machine and the Sox

July 27, 2011

I guess that I have to admit that the sixth game of the 1975 World Series is the most famous of all the sixth games in baseball history. Part of the reason has to do with the teams involved and part has to do with it going into extra innings. Much of it has to do with one iconic image. In that way it’s much like the sixth game of the 1947 World Series that I chronicled earlier. And that’s only one of the things it has in common with 1947.

Pat Darcy with some guy named Fisk

1975

The date was 21 October 1975 when the Cincinnati Reds, known as “The Big Red Machine”, took on the Boston Red Sox in game six of the World Series. Boston was down 3 games to 2, but had both games at home in Fenway Park. For the Red Sox, ace Luis Tiant took the mound, the Reds countered with Gary Nolan. In the bottom of the first, Sox center fielder Fred Lynn connected for a three run home run. Nolan lasted one more inning before being pulled for a pinch hitter. The Reds bullpen proceeded to shut down the BoSox for the next five innings as Cincinnati clawed back into the game.  They got three runs in the fifth to tie the game, then put up two more in the seventh, then got a home run from eight hitter Cesar Geronimo in the top of the eighth.

So far it had been a fairly one-sided game. The Sox had six hits, the Reds 11, and with six outs to go, Cincinnati’s bullpen had been spectacular. Then with two out and two on, pinch hitter (and former Reds player) Bernie Carbo slugged a game tying home run. As a short aside, Carbo had a spectacular World Series going 3 for 7 with a double and two home runs. He drove in four, scored three and had a slugging percentage of 1.429, but he’s remember strictly for this one hit. Kind of a shame, isn’t it?

For the next three and one-half innings, nobody scored although the Reds left three men on base and the Sox two. Then, facing journeyman Pat Darcy, Carlton Fisk led off the bottom of the 12th with one of the more famous home runs ever hit. The camera, lingering on him, turned it into the “Body English” homer. So the Red Sox tied the Series at three games each. Unfortunately for Boston, it wasn’t enough. They lost an equally impressive game seven the next night sending Cincinnati home with the world championship for the first time since 1940.

Over the years the legend of this game has grown. In my opinion, it has grown too much. For much of the game it wasn’t all that big a deal. After Lynn’s first inning home run, the Big Red Machine took over and moved steadily toward victory through the top of the eighth. Everything changed in the bottom of the eighth and that’s when the game got interesting. I’ll admit it was a good game, it was even a great game for four innings, but it’s taken status as the “greatest game” ever or of the last 50 years (Take your pick which title you want to give it. I’ve seen both). It seems to me that it fails to meet that criteria, and thus is greatly overvalued. And maybe that’s part of the problem for me. It was a good enough game, but to rank it the “greatest” anything makes it overvalued and thus it gets into the “overhyped” category for me. It was a good enough game, but better than game one of 1954 or game one of 1988 or game six of 1993 (and don’t get me started on game seven of 1991, or any other game seven for that matter)? Not to me.

And there’s one other problem, and in this way it reminds me of game six in 1947. The team that wins the game loses the World Series. The playoffs are about finishing and winning a great game six is fine, but you gotta win game seven (if there is a game seven) to totally validate the game. I realize that doesn’t change the game in isolation, but it isn’t played in isolation, it’s played as part of a “Series” and you have to win four of that “Series” to claim victory. So props to both the Reds and Red Sox, but do me a favor and don’t overhype this game (particularly after taking a look at game seven the next night). Feel free to disagree, I know several people will.

20 Greatest Baseball Games

May 9, 2011

Jack Morris, 1991

Don’t know if anyone but me has been following MLB Network’s 20 Greatest Games series. It’s a series that let fans vote and experts decide on the 20 best baseball games of the last 50 years. It begins with Richardson’s catch to end the 1962 World series and goes through last year’s no-hitter in the playoffs. They had about 50 games you could vote on and then they’ve been doing a two-hour special with Bob Costas and a couple of the players left from the game. They show the game (or at least most of it) and talk to the players about what happened, how it felt, what they thought, what perspective they’ve gained over the years, etc. All in all, it’s a pretty good series. It shows at 7pm Eastern time on Sundays and if you’ve missed the ones they’ve already done, I’m sure they’ll reshow it. The list is pretty standard, the focus is on playoff and World series games, and there aren’t a lot of surprises in it. And because it’s limited to 50 years, the film is pretty good (and Don Larsen is left out).

Last night they walked us through the second greatest game of the last 50 years. It was game 7 of the 1991 World Series. For you who don’t know, that’s the 1-0 10 inning Twins over Braves thriller that capped the greatest World Series I ever saw. They had Jack Morris and John Smoltz, the two starting pitchers, as guests and both were a lot better than I thought they’d be, especially Smoltz. Next week they’re doing the greatest game of the last 50 years. The hints make it obvious that it’s game 6 of the 1975 World Series, Fisk’s “body english” home run.

I think they have the two games reversed. I saw both and 1991 was better in a couple of ways. First the score in 1975 was 7-6 with 24 total hits,  nine walks, and an error. That’s too much offense for a truly great game. Frankly, if offense makes great games, people should love game four of the 1993 Series. The final was 15-14 with 32 hits and 14 walks; runners all over the place. I don’t know anyone who thinks it was a particularly great game (unless, I guess, you’re a Toronto fan–they won). I also remember the 1975 game was not particularly crisply played and ultimately became famous because one cameraman kept his camera focused on Fisk so fans could see him “push” the ball fair. If I had to pick a game I saw involving Boston that I thought was the greatest of the last 50 years, I’d go with either the Buckner wickets game (which is a top five for this show) or the “Bucky bleepin’ Dent” game which also made the list.

But compare the 1991 game. Both teams went ten innings, scored one run, there were 17 hits, no errors, 7 walks (three intentional). There were base running blunders (Hello, Lonnie Smith), a couple of great double plays (Lemke unassisted and a 3-2-3 that was utterly special). There was great pitching, good strategy, some wonderful catches (including a superb one-handed job by Terry Pendleton). All in all I simply consider it a superior game to the one in 1975. And not least because Jack Buck’s “The Twins are going to win the World Series” is one of the great calls of all time. I’ll also never forget Twins manager Tom Kelly hugging Braves outfielder Ron Gant. Pure class and great acknowledgement of how great a game and Series Kelly had just witnessed.

Anyway, feel free to disagree. But don’t fail to watch next week. Hopefully you can find the rest of the set sometime soon.

Getting to Cooperstown without Winning

May 19, 2010

For the second time in recent posting, I’m going to shamelessly borrow an idea from SportsPhd. He posted a comment on the absurdity of equating greatness as a player with winning a championship in a team sport. I agree entirely with him. I sat down following his post and began seeing if I could put together a team of players who never won and yet made it to Cooperstown. It was actually pretty easy, so I went a step farther.

Consider this team:

Infield from first to third: George Sisler, Rod Carew, Ernie Banks, and George Kell.

Outfield: Billy Williams, Harry Heilman, Ralph Kiner

Catcher: Rick Ferrell

Pitchers: Fergie Jenkins and Ted Lyons

Know what they have in common besides being Hall of Famers and not having won a World Series? They also never even got into a World Series. Yep, that’s right, team. This is a list of Hall of Fame quality players who failed to find a team good enough to earn a trip to the World Series. I’ll admit to having some problems with a couple of them getting into the Hall, but they are there and we have to deal with it.

This list points out two things to me. First, that you can be genuinely good and not win. Second, the truly great names, the ones we really expect to see in Cooperstown, do make it to a championship, at least occasionally. Here’s a look at a team that got to a World Series, but didn’t win. Notice that most of us would consider it a better team (at most positions).

Infield: Willie McCovey, Nellie Fox, Robin Yount, Fred Lindstrom

Outfield: Ted Williams, Jim Rice, Tony Gwynn

Catcher: Carlton Fisk

Pitchers: Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry

So if winning it all is the best measure of greatness, all these guys fall short (and Scott Brosius is a great, great, great–he won three–player).

There are other players that can be added. Feel free to put together  your own and post it here.

Best Possible Game 6

December 14, 2009

If game 5 was the easiest Series game to pick because it was so obvious, game 6 was the hardest. There have been an inordinate number of quality sixth games in World Series history. I saw a number of them, so I chose the one I found the most exciting.

Down 3 games to 2 to the Atlanta Braves, the 1991 Minnesota Twins went into the Metrodome for game 6 needing two wins. What they got was a great game. They also ended up with the Kirby Puckett show.

The Twins broke on top with a Chuck Knoblauch single, a Puckett triple and a Shane Mack single for an early 2 run lead. In the 3rd inning Puckett made one of the most sensational catches against the glass I ever saw. It stopped a Braves rally cold. The Braves did break through in the 5th inning with two runs of their own. Terry Pendleton popped a two-run homer. Not to be outdone, the Twins went back into the lead in the bottom of the inning on Puckett’s sacrifice fly.

It took the Braves until the 7th inning to tie the game on a force out. The game remained tied until Puckett smashed a leadoff home run against Charlie Leibrandt to end the game and tie up the Series. In game 6, the Twins tallied 4 runs, Pucket had 3 RBIs and scored two runs. Heckuva performance.

Honorable mention game 6:

1947-The Dodgers tie up the Series. Famous for Al Gionfriddo’s great catch robbing Joe Dimaggio of a home run.

1975-Carlton Fisk’s “body English” home run in extra innings tied up the Series, which the BoSox lost the next night.

1986-in maybe the most famous error in World Series history, Bill Buckner leaves the wickets open.

1993-Joe Carter’s two-run blast for the Blue Jays wins the Series for Toronto.

2002-The Giants have the World Series wrapped up until the Angels rip off 3 runs in both the bottom of the 7th and the bottom of the 8th to tie up the Series. They win it all in game 7.

2003-Josh Beckett stifles the Yankees to record Florida’s 2nd World Series victory in franchise history.