Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Bench’

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.

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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.

A Great Year for a Dead Guy

January 3, 2011

Bid McPhee

Back several years ago, my son and I were rummaging through a baseball almanac looking at various stats. You’ve seen these. At the back of the book is a long list of stats by career, season, playoffs, etc. Usually they pick a cutoff number and list everybody with that specific stat above the cutoff. In looking over the triples list we ran across the name “Bid McPhee.” Neither of us had ever heard of him, so we did a little bit of  searching and found out a minimal amount of info. Then the Veteran’s Committee announced it’s pre-1919 list of winners and there was McPhee, enshrined in Cooperstown in 2000. So we got out the newest version of the almanac and looked him up again. Strange, but he seemed to have gained about 20 triples. We went back and looked at the old one, and sure as taxes he had gained 20 triples (We chalk that up to SABR research). So in one year McPhee gained 20 triples and a ticket to Cooperstown. That led my son to comment, “He had a great year for a dead guy.”

Born in 1859 in New York, John McPhee moved with his family to Illinois immediately after the American Civil War. He played baseball for the local town team, was signed by a nearby minor league team and remained in the minors to 1880, when he left baseball for a job as a bookkeeper. He was a short man and was refered to as “Little Biddy.” The name stuck as “Bid”.  Apparently you could make more money keeping books than playing baseball, and McPhee decided he needed the money. By 1881 he was back in Akron, Ohio playing baseball for the town team. He caught the eye of the fledgling Cincinnati team of the newly formed American Association. He was signed in 1882 as a second baseman (seemingly for more than the bookkeeping job). Cincinnati won the inaugural Association pennant with McPhee hitting all of .228 with 43 runs and 31 RBIs. He was, however, first in putouts and fielding percentage, third in assists and range among Association second sackers. He would remain an excellent bare handed second baseman for all his career, until age began to show. His hitting steadily improved and he eventually led the Association in both triples (1887) and home runs (1886) one time each.

McPhee spent his entire career with Cincinnati, moving with the team to the National League as the Association began collapsing in 1890. He remained a solid second baseman, and with the advent of the 60’6″ mound, he finally hit over .300. In fact, if you didn’t know about the change in the pitching distance, you’d swear he got a lot better as he got into his mid and late 30s. Another major change occurred for him in 1896. He broke a finger and began using a glove. His fielding percentage took off and he set an all-time high percentage for second basemen (.978) that lasted until 1925.  By 1899 he was 39 and through. He managed the Reds in 1901 and 1902 without much success, then became a scout, holding the position through the 1909 season. He retired to California and died in 1943. The call from Cooperstown came in 2000. He is one of only two Hall of Fame members, Johnny Bench is the other, who played their entire career in Cincinnati. In 2002 he joined the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.

For his career McPhee hit .272 with a .355 on base percentage, slugged .373, had an OPS of .728 (OPS+ of 106). He had 2258 hits, comprising 3098 total bases with 303 doubles, 189 triples, 53 home runs, and 1072 RBIs. He scored 1684 runs and stole 568 bases. The stolen base total is both incomplete and includes bases stolen prior to the modern rule being adopted in 1898. His fielding percentage was ..944, which is great for the 1880s and 1890s, he had 6552 putouts and 6919 assists.

As with most players of the era, there is some difference in the statistics of McPhee. The stats listed above are from Baseball Reference.com and differ from Nemec’s numbers in his 19th Century baseball almanac. Either way, McPhee shows up as an excellent player. When starting this look at McPhee, I went took a cursory look at the other second basemen of the 19th Century. I’ve concluded that, along with catcher, second base has to be the weakest position overall in the century. It’s tough to find a really outstanding player whose numbers reach out and grab you. I like Bobby Lowe and Nap LaJoie, but to me LaJoie is a 20th Century player and Lowe, although very good, isn’t truly outstanding. You could make a case for McPhee as the best 19th Century second baseman. Not sure I would, but he’d certainly be in the mix. But you gotta give him some credit for picking up those 20 triples 57 years after he died.