Posts Tagged ‘Lonnie Smith’

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Game 7 and the Realm of Legend

April 29, 2016

All this work on the 1991 World Series ultimately had to come to game seven. It was, admittedly, a great game, one of the truly finest World Series games ever. By this point it’s entered the realm of Legend and Mythology.

Jack Morris

Jack Morris

Game 7

On 27 October 1991 Atlanta and Minnesota squared off in the final game of the World Series. The Twins started game one pitcher Jack Morris while the Braves had John Smoltz on the mound. They proceeded to engage in one of the great pitching duels in World Series history.

Over the first five innings Morris gave up five hits and a walk with one batter reaching third and not scoring. Smoltz was as good giving up four hits and hitting a batter. As with Morris, he allowed only one man to reach third and that man stayed there.

The sixth and seventh followed in the pattern of the first five innings. In many ways the key moment came in the top of the eighth. Lonnie Smith singled. Terry Pendleton doubled sending Smith to third. Almost everyone agreed Smith should have scored, but a decoy play by Minnesota middle infielders Chuck Knoblauch and Greg Gagne kept him at third. A grounder to first recorded the first out without Smith being able to score. An intentional walk loaded the bases. That brought up Sid Bream who hit one right at Twins first sacker Kent Hrbek. Hrbek fired the ball to catcher Brian Harper for the second out and Harper fired it back to Hrbek for a three-two-three double play that ended the inning and may have been, Kirby Puckett’s great catch in game six not withstanding, the defensive play of the Series.

In the bottom of the eighth a pair of singles and a fly gave Minnesota two on and one out when the Braves pulled Smoltz. His line for the night was no runs, six hits, a walk, and four strikeouts. In came Mike Stanton, who’d pitched well so far. An intentional walk loaded the bases, then a double play liner to second ended the Twins threat.

Morris set down the Braves in order in the ninth. A pair of singles in the bottom of the ninth led to Stanton’s removal and the arrival of closer Alejandro Pena. He got out of it with a double play and a strikeout. After Morris repeated his ninth inning performance in the tenth, Minnesota came to bat in the bottom of the tenth.

Dan Gladden greeted Pena with a bloop hit to left center. When it fell between the fielders, Gladden, who had speed, took off for second and was safe. Knoblauch sacrificed him to third. That brought up Kirby Puckett who was walked intentionally to set up a double play. A second intentional walk to Hrbek loaded the bases and set up a force at home. The Twins then sent up pinch hitter Gene Larkin. With the Atlanta outfield playing shallow, Larkin lifted a fly to left center than plated Gladden with both the game and the Series winning run.

Larkin singles

Larkin singles

It was an absolutely terrific Series. Five games were won by the winning team in their last at bat. Three games went into extra innings. Only two games were won by more than one run. The Twins had eight home runs and four triples while hitting .232 (.398 slugging) and scored 24 runs. The Braves also had eight home runs and four triples, but hit higher at .253 (.422 slugging) and scored 29 runs (almost half in the 14-5 blowout that was game five). Minnesota’s ERA was 3.74, again much of it because of game five, while walking 26 and striking out 39. Atlanta’s staff was even better, showing signs of the dominant staff of later years. Their ERA was 2.89 with 21 walks and 48 strikeouts. Morris took the MVP award.

Normally I would wrap up one of these looks at a World Series at this point, but I’d like to take a few lines and comment on the way game 7 in 1991 has moved beyond normal World Series hype to take on a bit of cultural legend and myth. There are a number of reasons for this. First, it was a heck of a game. It was well-played, it was dramatic, it went into extra innings, it went into extra innings as a double shutout. There was the decoy play; there was the three-two-three double play. Like I said, a heck of a game. Second, it occurred just before the strike and was seen as baseball at its purest (never mind it used a DH and was played indoors on artificial turf). Thirdly, for three years the Twins stood as the last American team to win the World Series and they’d done it in a terrific game. Don’t forget that Toronto won the next two World Series’ and that 1994 was the lost Series (You know, you could make a pretty good TV show outta something called “The Lost Series”). Next, it was a great ending to an overall great World Series. And it has, over the intervening years become much of the lynchpin for Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame campaign. That’s kind of a shame. Morris won a lot of games, had a ton of strikeouts, pitched a no-hitter, had three rings. All of that is as important as game 7 in making the case for or against including him in the Hall of Fame. It’s like making Sandy Koufax’s case rest on game 7 in 1965 (also against the Twins, by the way) or resting Carlton Fisk’s case on game six in 1975. Whether you think either or both belong in the Hall of Fame or not, you have to make your case based on the totality of their career. The same holds true for Morris.

It think that without the legend and the mythology game 7 stands as a great game. I’m not sure it was actually better than game 6 of the same Series, but it was game 7, the ultimate deciding game. Was it the greatest game ever played? Probably not, but it easily stands in the top half-dozen or so even without the mythology that goes with it. Back a few years ago MLB.com did a series trying to identify the 20 greatest games of the last 50 years. Game 7, 1991 placed second to game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Having watched both I think game 6 of 1975 is overrated, but then I prefer great pitching to hitting. My choice for greatest game of my lifetime has to be Larsen’s game 5 performance in the 1956 World Series (I got home from school early enough to see the last couple of innings.).

 

 

 

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Blowout and the Puckett Show

April 27, 2016

With the World Series tied two games each in 1991, the baseball season came down to a best of three set of games with Minnesota holding home field. But before the teams could return to Minneapolis, there was one game left in Atlanta.

Tom Glavine

Tom Glavine

Game 5

The game of 24 October became the only blowout of the Series. The Braves lit up Twins starter Kevin Tapani for four runs in four innings (has kind of a nice symmetry doesn’t it?). He’d pitched well enough through three innings (one hit, one walk) before Atlanta unloaded in the fourth. Dave Justice hit a two run home run. A walk, a single and an interference call put a man on for Mark Lemke who tripled to score the run. Rafael Belliard followed with a double to make the score 4-0. The Braves got another on a pair of singles and a force out in the fifth to up the tally to 5-0.

Braves starter Tom Glavine was pitching well (three hits and no walks) going into the top of the sixth. He never got to the seventh. He walked four men in the sixth and gave up a single. That, plus a ground out, gave Minnesota three runs and sent Glavine to the showers.

With the score 5-3 fans were getting what was, for this Series, a fairly typical game. But for this contest, no one was finished scoring. In the seventh and eighth Atlanta exploded for nine runs (six in the seventh, three in the eighth) including home runs by Lonnie Smith and Brian Hunter and triples by Mark Lemke and Ron Gant. The Twins got single runs in both the eighth and ninth that included triples by Al Newman and Dan Gladden. The final score was 14-5 and Atlanta now led the Series three games to two. For the game the two teams combined for five triples.

Kirby Puckett, game 6

Kirby Puckett, game 6

Game 6

With Atlanta ahead three games to two, the 1991 World Series moved to Minnesota for the final two games. Although down by a game and facing elimination, the Twins had one significant advantage, they’d never lost a World Series game in the Metrodome (6-0). They got another advantage when the Braves made the mistake of pitching to Kirby Puckett.

The Twins started Scott Erickson in game six while the Braves countered with Steve Avery. In the very first inning Puckett struck. With Chuck Knoblauch on, Puckett tripled (another triple for the Series) to score the game’s first run. He later scored the second run on a Shane Mack single.

In the top of the third Erickson hit a batter, then a force moved him to second. Up came Ron Gant, who smashed a drive into deep left center. Unfortunately for the Braves and Gant, Puckett played center. By 1991 Kirby Puckett was no longer slender (I’m not sure he was ever actually slender). He was, not to put too fine a point on it, overweight, especially in the hindquarters. But people forget that when he came up he was a leadoff hitter with decent speed. He raced across center, leaped at the fence and caught the ball as it was about to hit the Plexiglas and bounce around for God knows how many bases. The runner didn’t score and Erickson got the third out on a weak tapper to first.

Puckett's catch

Puckett’s catch

In the top of the fifth the Braves tied the score when Rafael Belliard singled and Terry Pendleton homered. But Puckett was due up in the bottom of the fifth. Dan Gladden singled, stole second, went to third on a fly. All that brought up Puckett who lifted a long fly that scored Gladden on a sacrifice and put the Twins ahead 3-2. In the seventh, Atlanta got a run to tie the game at 3-3.

And it stayed that way for the rest of regulation. Puckett singled in the eighth, stole second, but didn’t score. Atlanta had to consider that a minor victory. In the top of the eleventh a caught stealing and two pop ups set the Braves down in order. To start the bottom of the eleventh, they brought in Charlie Liebrandt to pitch. He drew Puckett leading off. Liebrandt threw four pitches. Puckett parked the last one in the stands for a 4-3 Twins victory and a necessary game seven. And the Twins had still never lost a World Series game in the Metrodome.

Over the years Puckett’s performance in game six has been lost behind the mythology that became game seven. That’s a great shame. Between the hitting and the run saving, and possibly game saving, grab in left center Kirby Puckett had one of the great World Series performances ever.

 

 

 

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Two Games in Atlanta

April 25, 2016

Down two games to none, the Atlanta Braves picked up home field advantage for the next three games of the 1991 World Series. The games in Atlanta would produce, in its first two games, two nail-biters.

David Justice

David Justice

Game 3

The third game of the World Series was held 22 October 1991. Twins 20 game winner Scott Erickson faced Braves lefty Steve Avery. Avery started off rocky by giving up a triple to Minnesota leadoff man Dan Gladden. A Chuck Knoblauch fly plated him, but Atlanta got out of the inning without further damage. The Braves got the run back in the bottom of the second with a two out walk to catcher Greg Olson followed by consecutive singles to bring him home.

In the bottom of the fourth, Dave Justice, whose error in game two cost Atlanta a run, smacked a homer to put the Braves ahead 2-1. In the bottom of the fifth they added another run on a Lonnie Smith home run. Up 3-1,  Terry Pendleton Walked and went to second on a wild pitch. An error sent him to third and sent Erickson to the bench in favor of David West, who proceeded to walk the bases full. A further walk scored Pendleton and brought in Terry Leach, who finally got the third out.

Down 4-1, the Twins fought back in the seventh and eighth innings. A Kirby Puckett home run leading off the seventh made the scored 4-2, then in the top of the eighth catcher Brian Harper reached on an error and came home on a two run homer by Chili Davis that knotted the score.

And it stayed that way through the ninth, through the tenth, through the eleventh. Men were on base, but no one came home. In the twelfth the Twins loaded the bases, but had depleted their bench. They sent relief ace Rick Aguilera to bat with two outs. He lined out to center. In the bottom of the inning Justice singled with one out and stole second. A walk brought up Mark Lemke, who singled home the winning run.

Atlanta won 5-4 in twelve innings to halve the Twins lead in games. Despite two errors (Minnesota had one), they’d hung in to finally show they could win a game. Twins manager Tom Kelly played his entire bench and was later criticized for having to bat Aguilera in the last inning.

Mark Lemke

Mark Lemke

Game 4

On 23 October 1991, Minnesota and Atlanta squared off in game four of the World Series. The Twins sent game one winner Jack Morris back to the mound, while the Braves countered with John Smoltz, starting his first Series game.

Again, the Twins broke on top. A Brian Harper double and a Mike Pagliarulo single plated the first run of the game in the second inning. It held up until the bottom of the third when Terry Pendleton launched a homer to tie the game.

There things stayed through the sixth. In the top of the seventh, with one out, Pagliarulo hit a home run. An out later the Twins pulled Morris for pinch hitter Gene Larkin. He grounded out to end the inning. In came reliever Carl Willis to take over for Morris. He got two outs before Lonnie Smith tied the game with another home run, making three total for the game.

And there it stayed into the bottom of the ninth. With one out Mark Lemke tripled to put the winning run 90 feet from pay dirt. An intentional walk set up a potential double play which pinch hitter Jerry Willard promptly made moot by sending a sacrifice fly to right that scored Lemke with the winning run and tied up the World Series two games each. Lost in the shuffle was a great hitting performance by Pagliarulo in a losing cause and a fine two inning shutdown in the eighth and ninth by Braves reliever Mike Stanton, who took the win.

Game five was scheduled for the following day.

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Opening Round in Minnesota

April 21, 2016

After a short detour, it’s time to get back to 1991.

The first two games of the 1991 World Series were scheduled for Minneapolis in the Metrodome. It was a place of quirks with a “baggie” in the outfield, Plexiglas in the outfield, and an inflatable roof. It was also the place that saw two excellent games and one controversial play.

Greg Gagne

Greg Gagne

Game 1

The first game was played 19 October with Twins pitcher Jack Morris facing Charlie Leibrandt. Both hurlers got through the first two innings giving up a couple of hits, but allowing no runs. That changed in the bottom of the third when Dan Gladden singled with two outs. He stole second and came home on a Chuck Knoblaugh single for the Series’ first run. That was all until the bottom of the fifth. A Kent Hrbek double and a Scott Leius single put runners on first and third for nine hitter Greg Gagne. He’d hit eight home runs all season, but grabbed a Leibrandt pitch and drove it to left field to put Minnesota up 4-1 and send Leibrandt to the showers.

It was all Morris would need. He gave up single runs in both the sixth and the eighth, while Hrbek contributed another Twins run with a home run in the bottom of the sixth. It made the final score 5-2 and put Minnesota up one game to none. For his career, Gagne managed four home runs in 12 postseason games for the Twins (the 1991 homer was his last postseason home run) while averaging only 10 a season for his career. For Morris it was a typical outing. He gave up two runs on six hits, and four walks while striking out three. All six hits were singles.

For the Series it was to be the only game of the first four decided by more than one run. It set the stage for an excellent game two, a game that led to one of the Series’ most controversial plays.

Wrestlemania

WrestleMania

Game 2

On 20 October, Minnesota hosted game two of the World Series. The hometown Twins sent Kevin Tapani to the mound in hops of taking a 2-0 lead in games, while Atlanta countered with Tom Glavine, whose job was to help tie up the Series.

Glavine was in trouble from the first. He managed to coax a fly from Minnesota leadoff hitter Dan Gladden, but right fielder Dave Justice misplayed it into a double. Then Glavine walked Chuck Knoblauch. Kirby Puckett grounded to third. Terry Pendleton got the ball, stepped on third, tossed to first, and picked up a double play that left Knoblauch alone on second. With two outs, Kent Hrbek smashed a two-run homer to left center to put the Twins up 2-0.

In the top of the second, Justice helped make up for his error with a single. He went to third on a double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Brian Hunter. That put the Braves a run closer. It stayed that way into the top of the third when one of the most controversial plays in World Series history occurred.

With one out, Lonnie Smith reached first on an error. A second out brought up Ron Gant. Gant singled to left field and rounded first wide. Gladden, the left fielder, threw to Tapani, cutting off on the mound. Seeing Gant turn wide, Tapani threw to first baseman Hrbek covering the bag. Gant dashed back and collided with Hrbek. In the process Hrbek lifted Gant off the base while holding the ball. The umpires ruled Gant out to end the inning. Atlanta argued that Hrbek had intentionally pulled Gant off the bag and thus Gant was safe at first while Smith was on third. Ultimately the umps conferred and agreed that Hrbek had been unable to maintain balance in the collision and had not purposefully pulled Gant off the bag. That made for three out and the inning was over.

It did matter. In the top of the fifth, the Braves picked up a tying run on a double, ground out, and sacrifice. That tied the score and left Braves fans wondering what might have happened had Gant been safe with Smith on third.

The score remained tied into the bottom of the eighth. Scott Leius, Twins third baseman, whose error had put Smith on in the third inning, led off. He drove a home run to left center to put Minnesota ahead with one inning to play. Twins reliever Rick Aguilera entered the game in the ninth. He struck out one, allowed a single, then struck out the final two Braves to end the game and leave Atlanta fans wondering what would have been had “WrestleMania” not broken out at a baseball game.

The Twins were ahead two games to none with the Series moving to Atlanta. The Braves now had three consecutive home games to tie up the Series or go ahead.

 

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Atlanta

April 18, 2016
Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta

Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta

By 1991, the Atlanta Braves were largely irrelevant for 20 years. They’d made a playoff or two and lost quickly, and Hank Aaron had hit his 715th homer while in Braves uniform, but that was about it. Their owner, Ted Turner, may have been more well-known than the Braves. That changed in 1991, when they, like the Twins went from last place to a pennant.

Manager Bobby Cox was over from a stint as manager and general manager at Toronto (and he’s never really gotten proper credit for that). He led a team that went 92-70 and beat Pittsburgh for the National League pennant. They were second in the NL in runs, doubles, average, and OBP. They were third or fourth in slugging, OPS, hits, and homers. The staff was third in ERA, saves, and runs given up while being first in hits allowed (meaning they gave up the fewest hits in the league).

The staff was, in some ways, the heart of the team, although it was not yet the staff that dominated most of the 1990s (Greg Maddux wasn’t there). Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, and Charlie Leibrandt were all lefties and accounted for three-quarters of the main staff. Glavine had 20 wins, Avery 18, and Leibrandt had 15. Glavine’s ERA was 2.55 and easily led the starters. John Smoltz was the right-hander. He went 14-13 and had a starter high 3.80 ERA. Between them they started 141 games. Glavine led the team with 192 strikeouts and Avery’s ERA+ of 116 led the starters. Galvine, Avery, and Smoltz all produced WAR above 5 with Glavine leading the team at 9.3. All that got Glavine his first Cy Young Award. Juan Berenguer had a 2.24 ERA and 17 saves while Mike Stanton appeared in 74 games with an ERA of 2.88. By late in the season Dodgers reliever Alejandro Pena had taken over the closer role racking up 11 saves in 14 appearances with an ERA of 1.40.

Greg Olson did most of the catching. He was 30, hit .241 with no power, and allowed stolen bases at a rate above the league average. Mike Heath was his backup. He was 36, hit even worse, and wasn’t any better behind the plate. Playoff hero Francisco Cabrera got into 31 games, only a handful as catcher.

Six men shared outfield duty. David Justice, former Rookie of the Year, was in right field. He was third on the team with 21 home runs, hit .275, had 87 RBIs (good for second on the team) and managed all of 1.6 WAR. Otis Nixon and Ron Gant shared time in center. Nixon was fast, leading the team with 72 stolen bases and walked more than he struck out. Gant provided the power. He led the team with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs. His WAR was 1.4 while Nixon checked in at 2.2, Left field saw Lonnie Smith and Brian Hunter split duty. Smith wasn’t much of an outfielder (the called him “Skates” for a reason), but he could still hit going .275 for the season. Hunter was new. He played a lot at first and was another player in the lineup primarily for his bat. His 12 home runs were fourth on the team. Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders got into 54 games for Atlanta, primarily in the outfield. He hit .191 and had 11 stolen bases.

The infield was stable at the corners and in flux up the middle. MVP Terry Pendleton, over from St. Louis, hit .319 with 22 home runs, 86 RBIs, and a 6.1 WAR, tops among non-pitchers. Sid Bream was across the diamond at first. He was notoriously slow (which is part of what makes his “dash” in the playoffs so famous), but could hit and fielded his position well. He had 11 home runs in 91 games (Hunter did most of the first base work in Bream’s absence.). Jeff Treadway, Rafael Belliard, Jeff Blauser, and Mark Lemke worked the middle of the diamond. Treadway hit .320, Blauser popped 11 home runs, neither Belliard nor Lemke hit .250, but both were good defensemen.

The Braves, like the Twins, were surprise winners. They had a nice mix of veterans and fairly new guys and a pitching staff that was rounding into form. With Glavine winning the Cy Young and Pendleton the MVP they were capable of winning the whole thing.

 

 

the 1980 NLCS: Philadelphia

October 21, 2015
Lefty

Lefty

Unlike the Astros, the Philadelphia Phillies were, by 1980, something like perennial contenders. They’d made playoff runs in the late 1970s and by 1980 were in one again. Much had changed from those 1970s runs.

After a 30 game stint at the end of 1979, manager Dallas Green was in his first full season as manager. He led a team that finished first, second, or third in almost every major hitting category. It was also a team whose pitching numbers were all over the place.

Part of the problem with the pitching was that the staff was made up of one all-time great and a bunch of other guys. The other guys included starters Dick Ruthven (17 wins), Bob Walk (11 wins), Randy Lerch, Larry Christianson, and Nino Espinosa. Those were all the men who started a dozen or more games. Lerch and Espinosa had losing records; Ruthven, Walk, and Lerch all gave up more hits than they had innings pitched; and Espinosa walked more men than he struck out. Their combined WAR was 2.8. Of course Steve Carlton made up for much of the pitching problem. He went 24-9 with an ERA of 2.34 (ERA+ 162). He led the league in strikeouts ( by more than 80), wins, ERA+, and pitching WAR (10.2). At the end of the season he’d add his third Cy Young Award to his resume.

The bullpen featured ex-Mets hero (and Faith Hill’s father-in-law) Tug McGraw. He put up 20 saves with a 1.46 ERA (260 ERA+), and struck out 75 in 96 innings. Ron Reed and Dickie Noles had a handful of saves and as a whole, the bullpen was equal to, and some might say better, than the starters.

The infield consisted of one of the better known keystone combinations of the era and two potential Hall of Famers at the corners. Larry Bowa was a longtime member of the Phils. He hit .267, stole 21 bases, didn’t walk a lot. His OPS+ stood at all of 71 and his WAR at 0.7. The second baseman was Manny Trillo. He hit .292, had an OPS+ of 104, and was fourth on the team with 3.4 WAR. Cincinnati refugee Pete Rose held down first base. He couldn’t do much in the field anymore, but could still catch the ball. He hit .282 with 12 stolen bases, 185 hits (a critical stat for him), 95 runs scored, on OPS+ of 94, and -0.4 WAR (but +0.6 OWAR). Mike Schmidt at third had a beast of a year. He led the National League in home runs with 48, RBIs with 121, in total bases, in slugging, OPS, OPS+ (171), and had 8.8 WAR. At the end of the season he’d add the MVP to his list of accomplishments. As a third baseman he wasn’t all that great, but was taking a long, slow road toward improvement. Backups included John Vukovich, Luis Aguayo, and Ramon Aviles. Additionally, 38-year-old Tim McCarver got into six games, two at first ( and the rest as a pinch hitter).

The catcher was Bob Boone. Known more for his fielding than hitting, he was considered a good handler of pitchers and had a caught stealing rate of about 33%. Offensively he hit only .229, but logged nine home runs. His backup was Keith Moreland, who got into 62 games in his rookie campaign (he’d played in 15 total games the previous two years). He hit .314, and a 113 OPS+ (0.6 WAR), and was such a good catcher that he ended up playing 1226 games, 169 as a catcher.

The outfield  was in a bit of turmoil with five men getting into 100 or more games (and later Cubs darling Bob  Dernier adding 10 games). Much of the problem lay in left field. Regular left fielder Greg Luzinski banged up his knee and only got into 106 games. And when he was in, he wasn’t producing all that well. He hit .228 with 19 home runs (but did have 56 RBIs), struck out 100 times (but ended up with an OPS+ of 113), and finished with 0.4 WAR. And to top it off he wasn’t much of an outfielder. The problem was his replacement wasn’t much better in the field. Lonnie Smith was called “Skates” for a reason (he looked like he was on ice in the outfield). He did hit well. going .339, with 33 stolen bases (13 caught stealings), 69 runs scored, a 130 OPS+, and 2.3 WAR. Garry Maddox and Bake McBride held down the other outfield positions. Both were much better fielders than either left fielder. McBride hit .309 with 87 RBIs, 116 OPS+, and 3.2 WAR. Maddox had 25 stolen bases, hit .259, hit 11 home runs, had an OPS+ of only 80 (with 1.9 WAR), but was probably the finest center fielder in the league. The other outfielder with 100 or more games was Greg Gross. He hit .240 with no power, but, along with Del Unser, was used as a pinch hitter.

As with Houston, the Phillies were a flawed team. Beyond Carlton the starting pitching was suspect. The infield was better at defense than at offense (Schmidt excepted), and the outfield was in disarray (at least a little–Luzinski was back by the playoffs). They were favored, but not by a lot.

A Hitter’s Hall

March 23, 2012

Hank Aaron, a hitter in the Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

An Anniversary in Kansas City

October 27, 2010

Dick Howser

With the start of the World Series, it seems appropriate to look back at previous champions so that the current crop of players can see the shoulders they stand upon. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the only World Series win by the Kansas City Royals. Over the last several years the Royals have become irrelevant in the American League, so many people have forgotten that they were once a powerhouse winning it all in 1985.

The Series is now primarily famous for Don Denkinger’s blown call in the ninth inning of game six. I’ve even heard people complain that call cost St. Louis the Series. It didn’t. Being unable to get their act together after the disappointment of game six did. The Cards lost game seven 11-0 (tied with a Cardinals victory in 1934 as the biggest blowout game seven ever) and Denkinger didn’t cause that. It also helped that the Royals were a good team. Ewing Kaufmann had away of finding good players who rose to the occasion when needed. They won only the single World Series on his watch, but they were competitive year after year. Dick Howser was an excellent manager who got the most out of his players and had a knack of nurturing new team members. It’s a great shame he died so very early. In fact, the early deaths of Howser and Dan Quisenberry give this team something of a tragic air.

The team itself had a young pitching staff. The four men who started the World Series games were 21 (Bret Saberhagen), 23 (Danny Jackson), and 28 year olds Charlie Leibrandt and Bud Black was the geezers (22-year-old Mark Gubicza didn’t pitch in the Series). Closer Dan Quisenberry saved 37 games that season, the last of four consecutive seasons he would lead the AL. Saberhagen picked up the Cy Young Award that season (and another in 1989). None of them went on to greatness, even Saberhagen, the best of the starters. He ended his career 167-117. Jackson had a few good years getting into World Series play in 1990 (with a winning Cincinnati) and 1993 (with a losing Philadelphia), and ending with a 112-131 record.  Leibrandt got into the 1991 World Series, lost two games, and is primarily famous today for giving up Kirby Puckett’s walk off in game six. His career record was 140-112. Black now manages at San Diego and went 121-116. Gubicza stayed with KC the longest (to 1996) but finished his career 132-136. Quiz died young but gave KC 244 saves (and for my money rates a serious look for Coopertown). For one year, they all pitched well and led a team to victory.

The infield was solid, if uneven. Steve Balboni hit .243 and led the team with 36 home runs. He also led the league in strikeouts with 166. Shortstop Onix Concepcion hit .204 and was replaced in the Series by Buddy Biancalana who had hit all of a buck-88. While neither tore up the diamond with a bat, both were decent fielders. The other two infielders were two-thirds of the heart of the team. Frank White was a great second baseman. He turned the double play with grace, could catch anything and played wider of the base than anyone else in the AL. He hit .249 with 22 home runs. Hall of Famer George Brett was at third. He led the league in slugging at .585, hit .335, had 30 home runs, 38 doubles, and 112 RBIs. Just your standard George Brett type year.

If White and Brett were two-thirds of the heart of the team, center fielder Willie Wilson was the other third. Leading off he hit .278. stole 43 bases, and led the AL with 21 triples. As an outfielder he was terrific, using his speed to roam all over the grass. Which was just as good because Lonnie Smith played left field. Smith could hit, but he was a terrible fielder. For 1985 he hit .257, stole 40 bases, and had 23 doubles. Today he’s probably most famous for the base running blunder in game seven of the 1991 Series, but for a while he was a winner (appearing on World Series winning rosters in 1980, 1982, and 1985). The Royals platooned Darryl Motley and Pat Sheridan in right field. Motley was the right-handed hitter. Both hit in the .220s, but Motley produced 17 home runs. Both Wilson and Smith were involved in drug allegations that effected their career, which adds an element of sadness about what might have been lost to this team.

The catcher and designated hitter were also solid. Jim Sundberg, lately over from Texas, was considered one of the finest catchers of the era. He hit .259 with 14 home runs in 1985, a major offensive explosion for him. Jorge Orta and Hal McRae split time as the DH (McRae was the right handed hitter). Both had acceptable years, but as the DH was not used in the 1985 Series, both were relegated to pinch hit duties. Orta got the only hit either had; it drove in two runs.  No one on the bench hit .250 and none had more than two home runs. Dane Iorg of Denkinger fame (or infamy depending on your point of view) hit .223 with one homer.

The team won the Series by hitting .288 to St.Louis’ .185 and scoring 28 runs to 13 for the Cards (take out the 11-0 game 7 and the numbers were 17-13). White had six RBIs, Brett led the team with a .370 average, and Saberhagen had two wins (including game seven) and picked up the MVP.

That was the highpoint for Kansas City. The pitching didn’t pan out, the hitters got old or faded. But for one year they were the best in baseball and showed the fans that Kansas City was relevant. Too bad that last part’s changed.