Posts Tagged ‘Derek Jeter’

Comparing Across Eras

May 30, 2011

Nap LaJoie

I have to admit I’m guilty of something. It’s a small thing, not exactly a sin, but I still do it. I’m guilty of trying to compare players across eras. We all do it. We compare Babe Ruth to Hank Aaron. We compare Lou Gehrig to Mark McGwire. We compare Honus Wagner to Derek Jeter. Baseball statisticians have come up with stat after stat that attempts to compare players. Some of them take the time to try to figure out how the eras differ and then try to factor that into the equation. Some of those do a fairly good job of it, and others stink up the joint when they try. So here’s a look at some of the factors that I think have to be considered when trying to compare players across eras.

1. Segregation. This one should be obvious and I have no idea how you factor it in. How much does Lefty Grove not having to face Josh Gibson change Grove’s overall numbers? Got me, coach. And of course it works the other way too. How much does Satchel Paige’s inability to face Babe Ruth in meaningful competition change Paige’s numbers? Again, got me, coach. I think it is important to recognize this is a problem. I simply have no idea how you fix it.

2. Roster sizes. I don’t want to hit this one too hard. If you have Babe Ruth on your team, you’re going to play him a lot. But roster sizes do matter, at least some. The smaller the roster, the less a manager can rest a player and that can create end of season slumps that might not occur on teams with larger rosters.

3. Rules changes. I tend to harp on the pitching change to 60’6″ as a watershed in baseball, but there are a lot of major rules changes that make it difficult to compare players. How would Cy Young do pitching at 50 feet? Well, we actually know he did quite well for a few years, but we don’t know what that means for someone like Walter Johnson. Pud Galvin never pitched a big  league game at 60’6″. Could he have been successful there? Don’t know and don’t know how to figure it out. There are other problems like ball and strike count, stolen base rules, etc. My guess is that some of them can be accounted for by looking at before and after stats and seeing how much change occurs (sort of like figuring out how much expansion changes things), but I don’t know you can account for every situation, particularly the mound. I also know this is a much greater problem in trying to factor in 19th Century players.

4. Equipment. How good was Honus Wagner in the field? A look at his basic fielding  stats shows he was OK, but nothing special. Some of the newer stats begin to show us just how good he was, but many of the older ones don’t take the difference in equipment into account. When you’re playing shortstop with a glove that looks a lot like my winter gloves, you’re not going to put up fielding statistics that equal those of players with modern gloves.  Take a look at modern catching equipment versus the gear of players as recent as Ray Schalk (of 1919 fame). Fielding statistics have gotten better over the years, but much of that is  artificial, brought on by equipment changes. Same for batting. Moderns bats are a far cry from the table legs used by guys at the turn of the 20th Century. There’s a wonderful picture of Nap LaJoie that I stuck in above. Take a look at the bat. Now think about a modern bat. Tell me that one factor doesn’t affect stats.

5. Fields. Modern baseball parks are a far cry from early parks. I’m not talking about the distance to fences, that’s easy to factor in. What I’m talking about is the general condition of the playing surface. Wagner talked about picking up a  ball and watching a cloud of  dust, a handful of pebbles, and the ball all going toward first at the same time. Don’t know how many times that actually happened, but it’s not going to happen at all today. Those uneven fields created more errors and also made normal chances more difficult. I think you can determine the best fielders of the era, but to compare them to modern fielders is difficult enough without worrying about the condition of the playing surface in 1910.

6. Going off to war. Really cuts down on your playing time and is specific to time and place.

Most of what I’ve talked about so far is generally known, and I think statisticians have made good-faith efforts to factor in those things. How much success they’ve had is another question. I don’t know that Win Shares or WAR or anything else adequately accounts for these things, but it’s evident that they are trying. It’s the following two items that I think have been vastly underappreciated by people who try to compare players.

7. Medical advances. You do know that if Tommy John never has the surgery named for him that he never enters a Hall of Fame discussion, don’t you? If that surgery were available in 1935, maybe Dizzy Dean wins another 100 games (or maybe something else goes wrong and he doesn’t). Modern arthritis treatments might give Sandy Koufax another twenty win season. My point is that medical advances change the ability of players to compete just as changes in bats and gloves and fields do the same. I don’t know that anyone has considered this. I also don’t know how you would factor it in, but I think it should be noted at some point.

8. Salaries. Back when I was collecting baseball cards the info on the back sometimes told you what the guy did in the offseason. Most players had to have a “real” job to make ends meet. Most of those jobs weren’t going to enhance your baseball skills. A guy like Richie Hebner dug graves. That might keep him in shape, but didn’t particularly help his batting eye. An old Cardinals pitcher named Ray Washburn sold insurance. Checking  actuary tables probably didn’t hurt his eyesight too much, but I’ll bet it didn’t help his throwing motion. With modern salaries making it less necessary for players to have a “real” job in the offseason they have more time to hone their baseball skills, thus making them better players. This doesn’t mean they all do it in the offseason, only that the opportunity is there for modern players, an option that wasn’t as readily available in 1960. Again, I’m not sure how that’s factored in, but it probably should  be noted.

So the next time you decide to see if you can figure out which was better, Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron, don’t forget to factor in a bunch of things that don’t always show up in the stats. There are others that I didn’t mention above (like advances in training methods), but these will do for starters. Have fun.

A Problem at Short

April 6, 2011

Back a few days ago I did a post on my choice for the top 10 Center Fielders ever. In a comment about it, Bill Miller jokingly asked if shortstop was next. Frankly, I wasn’t planning on doing another one of those top ten lists, but the question of shortstop got me to thinking about the position. In doing so, I noticed an interesting problem in making a decision like who are the top 10 shortstops.

A lot of players, a lot of truly great players, have been known to change position during their career. Stan Musial rotated between left field and first base for a time. Of course Babe Ruth went from pitching to right field (and a number of games in left field too). And Willie Stargell is listed at the Hall of Fame site under left fielders, but played a significant number of games at first, the position where he won his MVP. Dave Winfield floated between left field and right field.  But shortstop seems to have an inordinate number of really good players who shifted away from the position and spent truly significant time in another position. I’m not talking about guys like Pee Wee Reese or Cal Ripken or Arky Vaughan who moved from short to third at the end of their career because they no longer had the range to play short. I’m also not refering to players such as Honus Wagner who came up in 1897 and didn’t move to short until 1901. He stayed there (with the exception of a handful of games) for the rest of his career. I mean here guys that came up as shortstops and had to move away from the position at mid-career. There are several of them. Three are, by most estimates, men who would make a top 10 list.

Ernie Banks got to the Major Leagues in 1953 and played shortstop through 1961. There were a handful of games at third and in the outfield, but Banks was the Cubs’ everyday shortstop for nine years, winning dual MVPs. Then he developed leg problems and moved to first base. He spent 1962 through 1969 (eight years) as the normal first baseman, then played two final years as a backup player, also making all his games in the field at first. After 1961 he played not one game at shortstop. He ended up playing 1125 games at short and 1259 games at first (and about 100 at third or in the outfield).

Robin Yount was in the Major Leagues as a shortstop for Milwaukee at age 18. He won an MVP at short, playing there 11 years from 1974 through 1984. Then he hurt his arm and shifted to the outfield. He spent some time as a designated hitter and a left fielder, but by 1987 had settled in as the Brewers’ everyday center fielder, a position he held through his retirement in 1993, a total of seven years. Again there are a  handful of  games at first and  DH, but Yount spends the last half of his career as an outfielder, where he wins another MVP award. For his career he ends up with 1479 games at short (none after 1984) and 1218 games in the outfield (most in center).

Alex Rodriguez joined the Mariners in 1994, becoming the primary shortstop in 1996. Through 2003 (10 years) and a change of team he had four games as a DH, 1267 at short, a batting title, and RBI title, three home run titles, and an MVP. Then came the move to New York, which already had a shortstop. Since 2004, Rodriguez has played 1269 games at third base, five at short, and 36 as the DH (through the end of the 2010 season). Unless something happens to Derek Jeter, Rodriguez will, by the end of 2011, have spent more time at third than at short.

It should be obvious what problem is raised. These three guys are truly fine players, two Hall of Famers and a potential, and all are recognized as shortstops. Two of them are going to end up playing more than half their games at another position and the third is close. It brings up the obvious question: how much should these guys be rated as a shortstop?  Are they to be recognized as greater players than shortstops? Should we view them as multi-poitional players?  At this point I’m not sure of the answer, but at some point I’ll figure it out for my purposes. Then I’ll let you know what I’ve decided.

The 50 Greatest Yankees

April 4, 2011

Recently ESPN New York did a poll of experts (and I’ll bet they stiffed every one of us) to determine the 50 Greatest New York Yankees. The list is available at their site or if you go through Google, it’s the first item. I won’t give you the entire list, but here’s the top 10 in order followed by some commentary: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Mariano Rivera, Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter, Whitey Ford, Red Ruffing, Bill Dickey. And for those curious but not willing to go look up the list, Don Mattingly finished 11th.

Now some comments:

1. Ruth finished first on every ballot. He was the only person to finish in the same spot on every ballot. That works for me.

2. That means that Gehrig did not universally come in second. A commentary on the  site indicates that a handful of people chose Rivera second, over Gehrig. I love Mariano Rivera. I can’t stand the Yankees, but I like him. He’s the greatest reliever ever and it’s not often you get to actually see the “greatest ever” actually do his job. That’s really tough for someone who thought Dennis Eckersley, who never played for the Yanks, was the greatest. But Rivera greater than Gehrig? Come now, folks. I’m not sure what my all-time top 10 greatest players would look like, but I’m reasonably sure Gehrig would be in it and Rivera wouldn’t.

3. Staying with Rivera, I think ranking him above Ford is wrong. Gimme a starter every time over a reliever, especially if that starter pitched prior to the 1980s (1950s and early 1960s for Ford), when a hurler was expected to go deep into the game. For his career Ford averaged seven innings in each start with 13036 batters faced. Rivera, in contrast, has faced only 4586 (as of 3 April). Additionally, of pitchers with 150 wins or more, Ford has the highest winning percentage. Basically it’s a question of who do you prefer, a starter or a reliever? I suppose some of you would opt for the reliever, but I’ll stick with the starter.

4. Red Ruffing is a great choice for the top 10. He was an absolute bust at Boston, moved to New York, and became a Hall of Famer. It’s not just that he had a better team behind him, his numbers in general get better. He wins more, gives up fewer runs, walks less, strikes out more, his hits to innings pitched ratio gets a lot better. That can’t all be Yankee Stadium and Phil Rizzuto (and in case you’re curious, Ruffing was 25 when the Yanks picked him up). He also has one of my favorite stats. In World Series play, he is 7-2 (losing in 1936 and 1942). That’s the same record as Bob Gibson, although Gibson has the distinction of losing his first and last games and winning the seven in between.

5. If you’re interested in putting together a full team, Tony Lazzeri was the highest rated second baseman and Graig Nettles the highest third baseman, making your all-time team Gehrig, Lazzeri, Jeter, Nettles the infield; Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle the outfield; Berra the catcher; Ford the left-handed starter; Ruffing the right-handed starter; and Rivera the reliever.

So there you go. If you disagree with the list, complain to ESPN New York. All in all I thought it was a pretty fair listing.

The “Core Four”

December 9, 2010

The "Core Four"

Recently some genius’ have begun referring to four Yankees players as “The Core Four”: Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera. It’s supposed to be a reference to how important they have been to the Yankees winning ways in the last fifteen or so years. It’s catchy, but because it totally ignores the contributions of a number of other players, it’s utter nonsense.

The argument goes that these four players are the “core” of Yankees teams that have won five World Series. First, that’s difficult to sustain if you know that Posada played only eight games in 1996 (the first of the five World Series championships), none in the postseason, and that Rivera was the setup man, not the closer in 1996 (John Wetteland was both closer and Series MVP). It’s kind of like giving Sandy Koufax credit for the Dodgers winning in 1955 when he pitched in only 42 innings over 12 games and five starts (“Boy are we lucky we had him. We woulda never won the damned thing if he wasn’t on the roster.”)  Most importantly it completely downplays the contribution of other players, a sort of second “core four” (actually five).

As Posada was no factor in the 1996 World Series championship, and Rivera’s contribution was important, but not primary, we may only consider the “core four” as winning in 1998, 1999, 2000, and after a significant break, 2009.  There are another five that may be considered equally crucial in winning the 1998-2000 championships: Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Chuck Knoblauch, Scott Brosius, and Paul O’Neill (this without reference to pitchers). All five participated in the same three wins as the “core four” (and Williams, Martinez, and O’Neill made the 1996 Series also). I question how their contributions can be considered less than the so-called “Core Four.”

You might also argue that once Williams, Knoblauch, Martinez, Brosius, and O’Neill left, the “Core Four” were unable to secure a World Series championship until the arrival of a second four: Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, and Mark Teixeira. Perhaps it is those four that made the difference. In fact, following this idea to its conclusion, one could argue that the key player was Teixeira. After all the “core four” couldn’t win until he arrived. Or maybe it was Melky Cabrera. Heck, the Yanks didn’t win until he took over in center. Or maybe it’s really all about Andy Pettitte. Pettitte left after the 2003 Series loss and the Yankees failed to make a World Series until 2009. Meanwhile, Pettitte went to Houston, a team that went to the World Series in 2005 for the first time ever, then returned to New York in 2008, exactly one season prior to the last Yankees championship. So maybe Pettitte, not the “Core Four,” is the key.

Now you can rightly argue the idea that Teixeira (or Cabrera) was the crucial element is silly and I wouldn’t complain.  I wouldn’t mind if you laughed at the idea that it was all Pettitte. Because the point is that it requires a lot of good players to win, not just a “core four.”  With no loss of respect to the “Core Four”, how about a little credit to the rest of the team Yankees fans? It’s been a heck of a run and a lot of guys have been responsible for the success (several of which I didn’t name).

Charlie the Hustler

October 13, 2010

Rose

In posts on Joe Jackson and Hal Chase I mentioned Pete Rose in passing. I was asked what I thought of Rose. Being dumb enough to walk into an ongoing fight, here goes.

Let me start with an important caveat. I never watched either Jackson or Chase play (Even I’m not that old!). I did see Rose play. I also saw his teams perform. That’s something, again, I can’t say about either Jackson’s White Sox or the various teams Chase graced (Graced? Did I actually type “graced”?). That means I can’t look at Rose as dispassionately as I do the other two. I have memories of him that are real and not simply still shots or grainy newsreels. For me Rose is in color and the other two in black and white. I have distinct opinions about the Big Red Machine (it’s been overrated because its pitching wasn’t very good) and Rose’s postion on it (he was at best the 3rd finest player on the team after Bench and Morgan and depending on the year behind Perez and/or Foster).  I’m saying this so you know that I come to Rose with a bias I don’t have toward the other two.

Having got that off my chest, Rose is a first rate slug. Baseball has a lot of rules, some in a thick book, others posted on the clubhouse wall. No gambling is one of those. It goes back to the 1920’s and the Black Sox scare. I’m not a huge fan of Judge Landis and his  views of race, but he got the gambling one right. Simply no gambling on baseball in any way, shape, or form. It may be brutal and arbitrary, but it cuts out nuiances that make lawyers necessary. As far as I know, Pete Rose can read, so I want no excuses from him to the effect that “Well, geez guys, I didn’t know that.” Rose got himself banned for gambling and he now admits it. To me that’s case closed and I don’t want to hear about “Poor ole Charlie Hustle.”

Dante told us there were various levels of hell. I think there are also various degrees of bending the rules in baseball. I’ve noticed a number of people arguing that cheating is so  common to the game that Rose breaking the gambling rules is no big deal. Well, yes it is. There’s a wide gulf between Derek Jeter’s phantom hit by pitch (“Oh,agony, Oh pain, Oh I”m dying.”) and Chick Gandil trying to lose the 1919 World Series on purpose. To compare them is just plain silly. And Rose fits somewhere in between them

In some ways that’s my great problem with Rose, the “somewhere in between” part. As far as I can tell (and as I’ve said before, the trials and tribulations of Pete Rose aren’t my specialty) Rose is supposed to have bet on his team to win while he was a manager. Nothing in that impunes his character as a player. If he was betting on games as a player, then there’s a different problem, but I don’t feel I need to address that unless it’s true. It’s his character as a manager that’s in question. And again I find myself somewhat ambivalent about Rose here. Betting on your team to win is still gambling, but in a sense isn’t that what he’s supposed to do? Doesn’t he want to have his team win and placing a bet on them to do so shows a certain confidence in the team (and, yes, I understand the dilemma caused by not betting on a particular game) (more…)

The Way to Win: Observations

August 13, 2010

This is the final post in the series. I want to make a few observations about what the series is and isn’t. Let me begin by saying what prompted it.

I noted the comments about the Yankees “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada, Rivera in alphabetical order). I thought it was catchy, but immediately decided it was incorrect. The “Core Four” should be the core about eight or nine. Because the late 1990’s dynasty that ended in Phoenix in 2001 (the 2003 team is not, in my opinion part of that dynasty) had more than those four as significant members of the dynasy. There was Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Chuck Knoblauch, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Joe Girardi, and of course manager Joe Torre who were significant contributers to those winning teams. When I sat down and listed all the significant parts I decided to compare them with the other great Yankees dynasties of the past (1920s, 1930s, 1950s, 1970s). I simply wrote down the major players from the 1996-2001 team, then listed beside them the same position players for the other teams. It became fairly obvious that all the teams were a lot alike. They were all built very much the same. So I wondered if that worked for other dynasties as well.  As I’m spending a lot of time this year looking at the 1910 season, I especially wondered about the A’s team of that year. I decided to find out. I looked at a number of other teams (72-74 A’s, 29-31 A’s, 10-14 A’s, 57-59 Braves, 06-10 Cubs, 01-03 Pirates, 62-66 Dodgers). Turns out all of them had the same broad characteristics as the Yankees.

Let me emphasize these are broad characteristics and do not look at the details of the teams. In other words, I wasn’t looking at the stats so much as the quality of the players involved. This is, if you will, a macro look at the teams, not a micro look. Let me also emphasize that this is not a rigid formula to win. I don’t think there really is a good one of those (except maybe to keep your best players healthy). Back about 20 years or so I looked for the baseball stat that was the best predictor of getting to a World Series. I found it to be opponent’s runs. That was the stat the World Series contenders most frequently led their league in on a yearly basis. Don’t know if that’s still true (and there are new stats that weren’t available to check then). This current overview of mine is not meant to be something you can hang your hat on and say this is the winner this season.

Having said all that, I’ve begun to realize that a properly constituted team of stars, good players, and role players has a good chance of winning. Teams of all-stars don’t do it (Except, in the 20th Century,  for the 1930s Negro League Crawfords, and even they had role players.). It also helps to have a fluke; what I call the “one year wonder” rule. You can never account ahead of time for a Shane Spencer (of the 1990s Yankees) to have a short run that will help the team to victory or a Hurricane Hazle (of the Braves) to put you over the top. But they do happen and good teams take advantage of them.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the series and will look at teams a little differently now.

A Hole in the Lineup

May 17, 2010

Did you ever notice how certain teams breed great or really good players at some positions and end up with less sterling players at others? I wonder why that is. It can’t be just a team having lousy scouts or dumb management, because it’s too widespread.  A couple of examples are in order.

The Yankees have produced an inordinate number of truly great catchers and second basemen. Take a look at Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, and Jorge Posada. The first two are in the Hall of Fame, the last one has a good chance of joining them. Now take a look at Yankees second basemen. There’s Tony Lazzeri and Joe Gordon, both Hall of Famers, and Bobby Richardson, Billy Martin, Willie Randolph, Robinson Cano, all of which would get support in some quarters. Not the greatest set of second basemen ever, but a heck of a good quality set. We could do the same for the outfield (minus left field) and on the mound.

Now  contrast those positions with the rest of the infield. At first base there’s one all-time great (Gehrig), one really good player (Mattingly) and the rest of the crew. Shortstop is the same way with Jeter and Ruzzuto being way above the rest of the pack (except for Bucky Dent for one afternoon in Boston). Then there’s third base. I guess I’d go with Graig Nettles (What, momma couldn’t decide if she wanted Greg or Craig?) and Red Rolfe as the cream of the crop, with maybe a nod to Clete Boyer’s glove, but you gotta admit any of them is a real step down.

I’m a Dodgers fan. They have the same problem. An outfield of Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Zack Wheat, Willie Davis, Tommy Davis isn’t bad; and Campanella, Piazza, Scioscia, and Al Lopez is a pretty good collection of catchers; and the pitching staff can be great. But look at the infield. At short there’s PeeWee Reese and Maury Wills, and little else. At second there’s Jackie Robinson and  Jim Gilliam (who could play anywhere, but I’ve put him at second) along with a bunch of decent, but unspectacular other guys. First has Hodges and Garvey who are OK, but not true top rung players (and, yes, I’m a supporter of Hodges for the Hall). And again there’s third base. I suppose I’ll take Ron Cey as the best of the lot. He was a good enough player, probably the best of the 1970s infield crew, but if that’s the best you can do, well…

I can go through team after team and do the same thing. Look at the Phillies at first base. Howard may be their best ever and he hasn’t played 10 years yet. Ditto Chase Utley.

I have no idea why this is so. Maybe there’s just a lack of really good quality players at certain positions. Maybe it’s the chance in emphasis in the way a position is played (take a look at the difference in second and third basemen between 1915 and 1965). Maybe some teams really aren’t very good at spotting talent at certain positions. I don’t know the answer, I merely point out the phenomena.

Best of a Decade

January 1, 2010

Yesterday I commented on a variety of the top baseball things of the 200’s. Today I give you my all-decade team. These are my choices for best of the decade. One proviso, no one tainted by the steroids scandal can make the team, so no Bonds, no Sosa, no Palmeiro, no Clemens, no Rodriguez. I’m making no judgement on guilt or innocence, but exclude the player until such time as we can determine if his numbers are bogus. If they aren’t, I’ll be glad to change the list, but until then, here they are. The outfielders are designated A, B, and C. The order is alphabetical and nothing else should be construed from the order.

1b-Albert Pujols. This may have been the easiest choice of all. Maybe the greatest First Baseman I’ve ever seen and I can go back to Gil Hodges and company. It’s been a great era for First Basemen and Pujols is clearly the best.

2b-Chase Utley. It’s not been a great era for Second Basemen, but Utley is the best of the lot. He’s a good fielder and a first rate hitter with some speed and power. He does have a tendency to tail off a bit at the end of a season and gets hurt a lot.

ss-Derek Jeter. Yankees captain and sparkplug. Not as good as some people seem to think (he is not the second coming of Honus Wagner) but still one heck of a shortstop. Seems to be on the downside of his career, but still putting up excellent offensive numbers. He may be next to 3000 hits.

3b-Chipper Jones. The Braves seem to want to move him to the outfield but always end up putting him back at third. Good bat, but now in the decline phase of his career.

Outfield A-Torii Hunter. Superb centerfielder. Also a good hitter. Seems to be a positive influence in the clubhouse.

Outfield B-Manny Ramirez. I get a little tired of his act and I cringe when the ball is hit his way, but wow can he hit the ball. World Series MVP and major contributor to breaking an 80 years plus championship drought in Boston.

Outfield C-Ichiro Suzuki. An absolute hitting machine. Most hits in one season, speedy, good fielder, helped make Japanese players more acceptable to US audiences. Between US and Japan he may end up with 4000 hits.

Catcher-Joe Mauer. May become the greatest hitting catcher ever. Certainly already among the best. Also a fine defensive backstop. Has 3 batting titles (no catcher has more and only 1 has as many as 2) and an MVP.

DH-David Ortiz. Dominent DH for much of the decade. Lots of power, little speed, not much of a fielder, but crucial to Boston winning in 2004 (when he was league championship MVP) and in 2007. Seems to be deeply on the downside of his career.

Pitcher-Randy Johnson. I saw Spahn, Koufax and Carlton so it’s tough to call him the greatest left hander I ever saw, but he is very, very good. Three Cy Young Awards in the decade, one World Series win and the MVP to go with it, and lots and lots of wins and strikeouts. He’s through now and I hope he hangs it up (I’ll get to see him in Cooperstown quicker).

Closer-Mariano Rivera. The best postseason closer ever, although he botched game 7 of the 2001 World Series and 2 chances to close out the 2004 AL championship. Still he’s just better than anyone else, and he’s not bad in the regular season either.

There they are, team. So who’d I forget?

Best Possible Game 4

December 12, 2009

In World Series history the Dodgers have played the Yankees more than any other matchup. It’s appropriate they make this list. In 1947 they played a game for the ages. It included the first integrated World Series and proved the Last Hurrah for 3 players.

Game 4 in 1947 featured Hall of Fame players Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, and Phil Rizzuto for the Yankees. But the pivotal player was Bill Bevens, a journeyman pitcher who was 7-13 for the season. Opposing them was a Brooklyn Dodgers team featuring Jackie Robinson, the first black American in a World Series,  and PeeWee Reese. The starting pitcher was 10 game winner Harry Taylor.

Taylor didn’t have it. He gave up a bases loaded walk in the first and was lifted for Hal Gregg. The Yanks got another run in  on a  triple and a double. 

It looked like that was all they would need, because Bevens was wildly effective. For eight innings he gave up no hits, not one. He gave up 8 walks and one run on two walks, a bunt sacrifice and a fielder’s choice, but no hits (see, I told you he was wild, but effective).

The bottom of the ninth in Ebbets Field started with a fly out, then a walk to Carl Furillo. A foul out recorded the second out. Now the Dodgers decided to pinch run for Furillo. Enter Al Gionfriddo, a backup outfielder with speed who promptly stole second. Bevens intentionally walked pinch hitter Pete Reiser to set up a force at all three bases. The Dodgers sent in pinch runner Eddie Miksis for Reiser and called on pinch hitter Cookie Lavagetto to get them home. Lavagetto immediately banged a double off the right field wall scoring Gionfriddo with the tying run, Miksis with the winning run, and ending the no hitter. The Dodgers had tied the Series 2 games apiece. They eventually lost in seven.

For Gionfriddo it was his last series. He played in 2 more games, making a famous catch in game 6 to save the game. He never played another game in the Major Leagues. For Lavagetto it was his last Major League hit. He played in two more of the games in the Series, but got no hits and was gone from the Majors after the Series. For Bevens it was the last game he ever pitched in the big leagues.

Honorable mention game 4:

1929-the A’s score 10 runs in the 7th inning to erase an eight run Cubs lead.

1939-the Series was a blowout, but game 4 was clsoe until Charlie Keller bowled over Reds catcher Ernie Lombardi leading to 3 runs in the 10th inning.

1941-The Dodgers were ahead until catcher Mickey Owen dropped the third strike with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth. The Yankees scored  four runs to win the game leading to a Series victory the next game.

1963-the Dodgers sweep the Yankees behind Sandy Koufax and a 2-1 win.

1993-Do you like offense? This 15-14 special asked if anyone on either team could pitch. Runs were scored in every inning except the ninth. What happened? Did the hitters finally get tired of running the bases?

2001-Down in the ninth, Tino Martinez homers for the Yankees, then in the 10th Derek Jeter becomes “Mr. November.”

Sportsman of the Year?

December 1, 2009

So Sports Illustrated has chosen its Sportsman of the Year again has it? This time they took Derek Jeter. OK, maybe.

Actually Jeter isn’t a bad choice. He’s also not a great choice. He’s a darned good player, apparently a nice human being, and a leader. Same can be said of a lot of other people in sport. In baseball alone there’s that 1st baseman at St Louis and that catcher at Minnesota that also fit those criteria. The fact his team wins means he has a better team around him, not that he’s a greater sportsman.

There are other choices too. Tiger Woods won no majors, but still won a bunch of tournaments this season (and I’m sure the car wreck came after the decision was made at SI). Roger Federer is good. Tim Tebow fits all the criteria that also fits Jeter, and like Jeter, he wins. Hopefully his religiosity isn’t a problem for them. If so, what would they have done with either Koufax or Ali in the 1960s?

Pro football has its candidates: Brady, P. Manning, Brees, and company. Frankly, if I’d been given a vote it would have been for Peyton Manning (love the “mouthpiece” commercial–top that Jeter). He’s perhaps the greatest ambassador for his sport going.

So Jeter isn’t an inspired choice. Maybe it’s not even the right choice. But it’s not a bad choice. Enjoy the recognition, Derek.