Posts Tagged ‘Duke Snider’

Power Center

March 21, 2011

I saw that the Hall of Fame is honoring the guy who wrote “Talkin’ Baseball” at this year’s Cooperstown festivities. The line from it that everyone knows is “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.” All were center fielders and as I’ve been looking through information on the position, I’ve discovered just how extraordinary they were.

What came to my attention is how few major power hitters occupy center field as their primary position. Having three at one time is really very odd. Let me show you a particular stat that points that out. I remembered that Joe DiMaggio had 361 home runs. So I decided to make him the bottom of my list of center fielders with power. When I looked over the list of home run hitters in order, I found DiMaggio was 71st, which worked for a good base after all. It would have been better it he was 75th, but 71 will work. Obviously if I run the list longer, the numbers will change, but a cursory look all the way to 100 didn’t seem to make that much difference (and I should stress “cursory” in that sentence).

What I noticed is that there are less center fielders on the list than either of the other outfield positions. Now the usual caveats. As outfielders can sometimes be interchangeable, especially as stat types tend to lump them together as “outfielders” rather than “left fielders” or either of the others (and I’ve also noticed that the more modern the source, the less common this is, which I think is good), I went to  Baseball Reference.com to determine which outfield position guys like Gary Sheffield actually played most often (right in his case). I also took the Hall of Fame listing to determine a player’s primary position. The Hall lists Willie Stargell as a “left fielder” rather than a “first baseman” so Willie becomes one of the people I looked at. Finally I realize not all the people in the top 71 played all games at one position, so that they hit home runs at other positions rather than their primary position. For instance both Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial spent significant time at first base (as, obviously, did Stargell). So this is not a list to determine who hit the most homers while in center or anything like that.

Here’s what I found. Of the top 71 home runs hitters in Major League history, 17 were primary right fielders (I’m not listing them all, but they run from Hank Aaron to Rocky Colavito), 13 were primary left fielders (from Barry Bonds to Ralph Kiner), and only eight were in center. Here I’ll list them all in order of home runs: Willie Mays, Ken Griffey, Mickey Mantle, Andruw Jones, Duke Snider, Dale Murphy, Jim Edmonds, Joe DiMaggio.

A few observations:

1. It seems big league baseball really does like the old “defense up the middle, power at the corners” idea. I heard that all the way back in Little League. The idea is that if you have solid defense up the middle (shortstop, 2nd base, center field) then you can get your power from the corner players (1st base,  3rd base, left and right field). From the info above 24% of the 71 best power hitters played right field, 18% played left field, and 11% played center field as their primary position. The drop from 24% to 11% is noticeable. I’m not saying that you can’t play center if you hit for power, but that the power hitters tend to cluster towards the edges. If you think about it you probably already knew that intuitively.

2. Those numbers hold even if you move the base to another arbitrary position, like 400 home runs. Then you get 11 right fielders, nine left fielders, and five center fielders (losing Murphy, Edmonds, and DiMaggio).

3. Those numbers and percentage will change as soon as the opening of the 2011 season. Just a few men hitting just a few home runs will drop DiMaggio further down the all-time list and change things. I briefly looked over the top 100 and it appears it won’t add an inordinate number of center fielders, so the general trend will remain the same (more or less).

4. They tend to clump. Mays, Mantle, Snider, and DiMaggio all have careers that overlap. Having said that, both Mays’ and Mantle’s rookie year is DiMaggio’s last, so only Snider overlaps DiMaggio by more than one year. Of course Mays , Mantle, and Snider play a decade together. Griffey, Jones, and Edmonds are also contemporaries.  And Murphy actually overlaps Griffey and Edmonds (although his final season is Edmonds rookie campaign).

5. On a personal note. I hadn’t realized that Andruw Jones was already fourth on the list of home runs among primary center fielders. I’ve never considered him a truly elite player. He was a great center fielder, but I guess I had managed to more or less ignore his hitting contributions. Silly me.

I don’t think the stats above are all that significant in the long list of baseball information. I merely find them interesting and am sure that if I were to change the criteria it would change the info. For instance I left out Earl Averill, who didn’t make the top 71 home runs hitters, but was a significant power hitter in the 1930s.  They do remind me just how lucky we were to have Mays, Mantle, and Snider playing at the same time.

The Center Fielders

March 11, 2011

The loss of Duke Snider and a spring training have gotten me to thinking about one of baseball’s glamour positions, center field. So for the next short while I’m going to turn to the position on this site. Some posts will be my standard bios with commentary, others will be on different issues.

Did you ever notice just how many really good center fielders there were? I didn’t say “great”, I said “really good.”  Jim Edmonds is one of those. He just retired and I have to admit I loved watching him play. It wasn’t his hitting that I enjoyed, although it was pretty good too, but it was his play in the field. It seem like the guy could catch everything, no matter how far he had to run or how far he had to stretch out. Torii Hunter is another of those that I simply love to watch field. I’ve been known to offer up a prayer to the effect of “Let someone hit a shot to center just so the world can see Edmonds  (or Hunter) go get it.” Sometimes it gets answered.

Those kinds of guys have existed for a long time. I remember the 1966 World Series pitted Paul Blair against Willie Davis, two truly fine enter fielders of the era. The Series turned on pitching (and three errors on two consecutive plays by Davis) but both were tremendous in the field (Ok, not Davis in game 2). In 1941 Joe DiMaggio faced off against Pete Reiser. In 1927 it was Earle Combs against Lloyd Waner. I could go further back.

But you know what? There aren’t really a lot of great center fielders. Now I suppose we’ll all have different definitions of “great” and that’s part of the joy of baseball. But to make a partial point about it, take a look at the last 30 years of Hall of Fame voting (1981-2010). In 1980 Duke Snider got in. In the 30 years since there have been only two or, depending on where you put Robin Yount and Andre Dawson, three or four center fielders make the Hall. The only two sure center fielders are Richie Ashburn in 1995 by the veteran’s committee and Kirby Puckett by the writers in 2001. To me Yount is a shortstop and Dawson plays right, but others may disagree.  Considering how many quality center fielders there have been in the last 30 years, that’s not a lot being defined as “great.”

Take a minute, sit down, and draw up your own list of the five greatest center fielders ever, leaving out 19th Century and Negro League players and concentrating on the players since 1901. Here’s mine alphabetically: Cobb, DiMaggio, Mantle, Mays, Speaker. Yours may vary and that’s not the point. I’ll bet it didn’t take long to come up with the list, did it? Now go to 10. See if it doesn’t get really harder as you get toward nine and ten (passing Griffey, Puckett, and Snider as examples). Mine did. And by 15 I was beginning to list guys like Edmonds and Hunter who I knew weren’t “great.”

This problem isn’t unique. Try it with first basemen or third basemen or left fielders. You get the same results. There are a few truly amazing players, then an entire truckload of very good ones.  But I want to stick with center fielders for a few days.

The Duke of Flatbush

March 2, 2011

Out where I’m from there’s only one “Duke.” He rode tall in the saddle, represented everything that was good in the USA, won an academy award for wearing an eyepatch. When you say the name “John Wayne” people stand to attention and remove their hats and begin humming the national anthem. Well, I was that way about Duke Snider too, so his death hit me hard. Sunday I put up a very brief note about the death of Snider. Today I want to talk a little more about him. I don’t want to spend it going over his stats. You can look those up for yourself. I want to explain why his death hit me so hard.

Ebbets Field 1957

When I was a kid there was one team I rooted for year after year, the Brooklyn Dodgers. I’ve never been quite sure why. Maybe it was because my grandfather hated the Yankees and the Dodgers played them a lot in the World Series. Maybe it was because they had great players and I recognized that. Maybe it was just to be perverse and bug my grandfather who was a Cardinals fan. Whatever it was, they were my team and they were glorious in the way only a child can understand glory.

It didn’t take a genius, and as an elementary school student I certainly wasn’t one of those, to see just how much Jackie Robinson meant to the team. For a while I wanted to be Robinson more than anyone else in the world. But a little bit of watching and listening told me that by the time I was wholly aware of the team, other players were better than Robinson, but you could tell he was still the engine that made the team run. He was still the heart and soul of the team. Roy Campanella’s greatness was obvious and no one ever swung a bat harder.  Carl Furillo’s arm was a sight to behold and with him out in right field Abe Stark’s sign was almost never hit. Pee Wee Reese’s leadership was obvious too, but Snider was something very special.

He was easily the best hitter by this point. You’ve probably heard by now that he had more home runs and RBIs than anyone else in the 1950s. That’s true, but it’s a little disingenuous. Snider had the entire decade, while Mays lost part of a couple of years to Korea and Mantle didn’t show up until 1951. Of course neither of those things diminishes his ability and, frankly, I neither knew nor cared about any of that back when I watched him play. I kept trying to figure out if I could duplicate his swing. I couldn’t. 

He was a great center fielder who seemed to catch everything. I remember he had this funny habit of backing up for the ball, not turning and running to a spot then turning back to the ball like Mays did it. I tried to do that as a kid and usually fell over my feet. The Mays way I could do, so in some odd sort of way I decided that Snider was a superior fielder to Mays because he did something that was harder and did it well. I may have been wrong, but it worked for me way back when. And all that falling over my feet got me a trip to first base where I played for several years back in little league. Thanks, Duke.

The team moved to LA in 1958. Now I was wedded to the team, not the town, so, unlike a lot of people, the move didn’t bother me. As long as the guys were still there I found it easy to transfer my love from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Snider’s numbers began to falter. The LA Coliseum was death on left-handed hitters. The Dodgers won the World Series in 1959 with him still in center field so it didn’t matter to me that he was getting weaker. By the time I noticed he was falling off, I’d transferred my allegiance to a kid pitcher named Koufax who seemed to have some promise, so it didn’t hurt quite the same when Snider was sent to the Mets. It did hurt when he ended up with the Giants. The Giants? God, that was almost as bad as sending him to the Yankees. The @#$%ing Giants? What didn’t they just send him to the @#$%ing Yankees and get it over with?

I sort of lost track of him after he retired. I got older and he got obscure. Later on when he finally made the Hall of Fame I started paying attention to Snider again. He did color work for the Expos, got in trouble with the IRS over money from card shows, but he was still a  hero to me. Back a few years ago ESPN did a thing where they asked you to vote for the greatest player of each team. Robinson won for the Dodgers and Koufax was second. Snider came in third. Despite a genuine admiration for both Robinson and Koufax, I voted for the Duke.

They are mostly gone now, my old heroes. Snider was in some ways the last of them–the heroes of my earliest youth. I know Don Zimmer and Tommy LaSorda are still alive, but I don’t think I even knew who Zimmer was and I never associate LaSorda with anything but managing. Dodgers aces Carl Erskine and Don Newcombe are both still around also, but when your new hero is Sandy Koufax (if you don’t believe me, see my avatar), other pitchers tend to fall by the wayside. But Snider remained the last link to my first heroes. I know that soon there will be no more Brooklyn Dodgers (I think Koufax may be the youngest left and he’s in his 70s) and that will make me sad.

So good-bye to the Duke of Flatbush. He never knew he was a hero of mine, which may help account for his longevity. May he rest in peace.

RIP the Silver Fox

February 27, 2011

Normally I take Sunday’s off, but I just saw on the msnbc website, that one of the all-time heroes from my youth died. Duke Snider was 84 and the last of the Hall of Fame “Boys of Summer”. RIP, Duke. Here’s a nice shot from the ‘net.

The Duke of Flatbush

What Were They Looking At?

June 2, 2010

Yesterday I did a post about Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak. Kevin from DMB blog pointed out that Ted Williams’ 1941 was at least as good as DiMaggio’s and probably better. I concur. It got me to thinking (which is sometimes not a good thing) about Williams’ lack of respect in the MVP voting, which led me to Duke Snider and a couple of other people who never got the support they needed from MVP voters. I want to point out five cases, four from the 1950s, (there are more and you may have your own favorite) where I can’t help but ask, “What were they looking at?” when the writers voted for MVP.   

Joe Gordon

 1. 1942. Joe Gordon won. Gordon hit .322, slugged 491, had 173 hits, 88 runs, 18 home runs, 103 RBIs, and 264 total bases. He managed to lead the league in one category, strikeouts with 95. Williams the same year hit .356, slugged .648, had 186 hits, 141 runs, 36 home runs, 137 RBIs, and 338 total bases. He led the league in average, slugging, runs, home runs, RBIs, and total bases. In other words, the man won the triple crown. He also led the league in walks. What were they looking at? Unless they simply decided to give it to the best player on the team that won there’s no way Gordon had a better year. And I’m not sure I’d credit him as the best Yankee that year.   

Roy Campanella

  2. 1953. Roy Campanella won. For the season Campy hit .312, slugged .611, had 162 hits, 103 runs, 41 home runs, 142 RBIs, and 317 total bases. Good year, right? Now let me give you another line in the same order: .336, .627, 198, 132, 42, 126, and 370. Those are the numbers for Duke Snider, Campy’s teammate. Snider led the National League in runs, slugging and total bases and they picked Campy. OK, maybe, but Campanella only led the league in RBIs.  

Duke Snider

  3. 1955. Campy won again. For the year Campanella hit .318, slugged .583, had 142 hits, 81 runs, 32 home runs, and 107 RBIs. Snider’s numbers for the same year were .309, .628, 166, 126, 42, and 136. He led te NL in both runs and RBIs. Duke, you got robbed.  

Don Newcombe

4. 1956. Don Newcombe won. Newcombe in 1956 put up the following numbers: 27 wins, 7 losses, a 3.06 ERA, 268 inning pitched, 219 hits, 139 strikeouts, and 46 walks. He led the National League in both wins and winning percentage. Sal Maglie finished second with the following numbers in the same order: 13/5/2.87/191/150/108/52. Now I have no problem with Newcombe beating the Barber here. What I have a problem with is Maglie coming in second when the following two sets of numbers are available. This is the same pitching numbers in the same order: 21/11/2.78/281/249/128/52. Those are Warren Spahn’s numbers and I think I’d rather have his than Maglie’s. Again Duke Snider has good numbers: 158 hits, 112 runs, 43 home runs, a .292 average, a.598 slugging percentage, 101 RBIs, and 324 total bases. He leads the league in homers, slugging, on base percentage, and walks. He also comes in 10th in the MVP voting. Say what? Again my problem isn’t with Newcombe winning, it’s with the disrespect shown to both Spahn and Snider (What? Do they just not like guys whose last name starts with an S?) 

Jackie Jensen

  5. 1958. Jackie Jensen won. Jensen hit .286, slugged .535, had 157 hits, 83 runs, 35 home runs, 122 RBI’s, and 293 total bases. He led the league in RBIs. Mickey Mantle on the other hand hit .304, slugged .592, had 158 hits, 127 runs, 42 home runs, 97 RBIs, and 307 total bases. He managed to lead the league in runs, home runs, total bases, and also walks and strikeouts.   

There they are. You tell me who you’d vote for. I’m not sure what I’m missing when  I look these over. I’m tempted to say that there was too much emphasis on the RBI, but Williams loses in 1942 and Snider loses in 1955 with more RBIs, so it can’t just be RBIs. Campanella and Gordon both played more demanding fielding positions, and I’ll give you that Williams wasn’t the greatest outfielder in the world. But the thing is that Snider was no slouch in center and Gordon wasn’t the greatest second baseman to ever put on a glove (although he wasn’t bad ether). And Mantle with the leather was superb. So it can’t be that either, at least not entirely.   

Frankly, I’ve never been able to figure out MVP voting.  I know I’m dealing with the personal quirks and biases of a bunch of writers, but there is no consistency here at all. There have been a number that I’ve scratched my head over. These are, to me, five of the most obvious examples of “What were they looking at?” Feel free to add your own personal favorites (there are plenty).

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.

Opening Saturday

April 24, 2010

When I was a kid, Opening Day meant nothing to me. Heck, I was in school when the baseball season started. My teacher insisted I sit and learn something instead of go home and listen to the radio. For instance, she wanted me to learn history (there was a lot less of it back then) and English, and penmanship. Then there was homework (Any of you remember homework?). By the time I was done, the games were over and all I got was the scores on the evening sportscast. Big deal.

But, Opening Saturday was different. I lived with my grandparents and Granddad was a baseball fan. He loved the Cardinals and I was a Dodgers fan (don’t ask).  He was absolutely certain that Stan Musial was the greatest player since Alexander Cartwright invented the game.  “That fella in Boston is OK, but Musial can do anything and do it well,” he’d say. And me? I loved Jackie Robinson. By the mid-1950s he was no longer the best Brooklyn player (both Duke Snider and Roy Campanella were better), but he still made the team go and I wanted to be him. Somebody finally reminded me that he had a much deeper tan than I, so I decided I’d become the light Jackie Robinson. Turns out I didn’t.

The centerpiece of the day was the afternoon game of the week. There were two on Saturday afternoon, one on CBS and the other on NBC. We’d turn on the TV, see who was playing, pick the game we wanted, then settle down to watch the magic box in the corner. I think there was a rule back then that TV’s had to be in the corner of the room.  I didn’t know anyone whose TV was anywhere else.

We had a couple of rules. First, Grandma had to leave us alone. She would fuss around the house telling us we were lazy louts, then go off to sew, or read, or go next door and visit with another baseball widow. We could have cared less because we had two games to watch. That was the second rule. When the commercial breaks came on, we could change the channel and see how the other game was going. This was back when TV’s had knobs (You remember knobs?) and Granddad would leap up at “And now a word from our sponsors”, flip the channel, and God help the network if the other game was also in commercial (I didn’t know Granddad knew those kinds of words.). The third rule was that you couldn’t change channel if either the Cardinals or the Dodgers were playing, especially if they were playing each other. I wasn’t sure, but I had the feeling that changing the channel in this circumstance somehow involved sin and hell and damnation.

When the game ended, Granddad would cut off the TV then start telling me about baseball when he was younger. He’d seen Walter Johnson in an exhibition game somewhere along the line and listened to Babe Ruth on the radio.  He never bought off on that geezer idea that somehow the players were all better when he was a kid. He liked and admired the old-time players, but he recognized the greatness of the new generation. “That Mays kid looks like he’s gonna be real good,” he’d tell me, “but that kid pitcher, Drysdale, your Dodgers got seems a little wild.”  And what he thought about Koufax’s wildness was not to be repeated around Grandma. Of course none of them was Musial and that was all there was to it.

About five Grandma would call us for dinner. We always had leftovers on Saturday night. She called it cleaning out the fridge for the new week. Grandma claimed not to like baseball and knew we were lazy louts, but there was fried chicken. Every Opening Saturday there was fried chicken, every time. Granddad would always ask “What’s for dinner?” and her reply was always “We had some extra chicken so I just fried it up for tonight.” He’d wink at me as we went into the kitchen. It took a few years to catch the joke.

Best Possible Game 5

December 13, 2009

Some of these are hard. It’s tough to decide the best game 2 or the best game 3. Other people will make other decisions. But some of these are really easy. The best game 5 in World Series history is realy, really, really easy. It’s the best pitched game in Series history.

The 1956 World Series was tied two games each when Don Larsen took the mound in the Bronx for the Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers on the 8th of October.  He faced a loaded line up: Jackie Robinson, PeeWee Reese, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, and the Dodgers pitcher was Sal “The Barber” Maglie, a former Yankee.

Over the course of the game he struck out 7, including each Dodgers Hall of Famer once (Gil Hodges and Sal Maglie were 2 of the others) and barely had any full counts.  The Yankees got runs in the fourth on Mickey Mantle’s home run and in the sixth inning on a single, a sacrifice by Larsen, and Hank Bauer’s single. In between, Mantle made a spectacular catch off Hodges’ bat in the fifth to preserve the no hitter.

In the ninth, Larsen faced Carl Furillo who flied to right field, Campanella who grounded to second base, and pinch hitter Dale Mitchell, who provided the seventh and final strikeout to complete the perfect game. It’s the only no hitter, the only perfect game in World Series history.

A couple of asides are appropriate. Maglie pitched well that day, giving up only five hits and two walks. Except for Mantle’s homer, all the hits were singles.  Finally, Dale Mitchell didn’t end up in obscurity. The baseball field at the University of Oklahoma is named for him.

Honorable mention game 5:

1929-down by a run in the bottom of the ninth, the Philadelphia A’s score 2 runs to win the World Series over the Cubs.

1933-in the top of the 10th inning Mel Ott clubs a home run to put the New York Giants ahead of the Washington Senators. When the Senators fail to score in the bottom of the 10th, the Giants win the Series.

1942-with the score tied 2-2 in the top of the ninth, Whitey Kurowski hits a two-run home run to win the Series for the Cardinals over the Yankees.

1964-in the 10th inning, Tim McCarver’s three-run homer propels the Cardinals to another win over the Yankees. The Cards go on to take the Series in 7 games.

2001-in the bottom of the ninth, Scott Brosius’ two-run dinger ties the game. The Yankees defeat the Diamondbacks in 12 innings on two singles and a sacrifice bunt. They lose the Series in 7 games.