Posts Tagged ‘Ozzie Smith’

The Derek Jeter Aura

March 3, 2014

So I see that Derek Jeter is hanging it up at the end of this season. That’s both good and bad. It’s, frankly, time for him to go, but it will cost MLB its face (which isn’t really David Wright, despite the recent poll) and the most recognizable player of his generation. He’ll get to make a grand tour, get lots of gifts (but try to top Rivera’s broken bat rocking chair), a ton of applause and adulation. Then he’ll ride off toward Cooperstown, making it in five years. It’s really a fitting way for him to leave us.

Ever notice how some players just have an aura about them? Ruth had one, so did Mantle. Koufax has it to a lesser degree. Well, Jeter has one too. He is “The Captain” the rock around which the Yankees built their latest dynasty. He’s the man with “The Flip” (which is still probably the best fielding play I ever saw). He is “one of the five greatest Yankees ever.” You hear all that don’t you?

Well, hang on a minute. Without trying to diminish Jeter’s legacy, which is formidable, let’s not get too carried away here. It’s not like he’s the first captain the team ever had. Gehrig was team captain too and Gehrig was a better player. If Jeter was the rock on which the latest Yankees dynasty was built, then he had a lot of other rocks around to hold up part of that foundation. There was Pettitte, Rivera, Posada (the so-called “Core Four”), and there was Clemens, and O’Neill, and Knoblauch, and Martinez too.

Jeter reminds me of Joe DiMaggio. He has the same aura about him. Both are great players, but both seem to be remembered as being somehow greater than they were in actuality. It took twenty-five years for fans to realize that Mantle was a greater player than DiMaggio and Jeter has that kind of aura too. I don’t mean to imply that somehow the Yanks have a greater shortstop in their history, only to point out that Jeter is revered in much the same way as DiMaggio. There’s a reverence about them that is different from the awe that surrounds either Mantle or Gehrig, or for that matter, Ruth. For the latter three it seems that “awe” is more appropriate and with Jeter and DiMaggio the word is “reverence.”

As for being “one of the five greatest Yankees ever” I suppose you could make that case for Jeter, although I’d rank him in the six through eight range, behind Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Berra and in line with Ford and Rivera. That’s not a bad place to be, all things considered. He’s probably a top five to ten shortstop (certainly behind Wagner and Ripken) depending on how you categorize Banks and Yount. He was never Ozzie Smith in the field, but then neither was much of anyone else.

Then it’s good-bye to Derek Jeter. The Yankees will miss him. I think a greater tribute is that baseball will miss him.

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.

Tall at Short

July 13, 2011

In my last post I answered Bill Miller’s question concerning my evaluation of Derek Jeter as an all-time Yank. Bill actually asked two questions. The second asked my opinion as to Jeter’s position in the shortstop pantheon. So, as I said earlier, I’m not immune from putting my foot solidly in my mouth, so here’s a reply to that query.

First the evaluations of shortstops are more difficult than a lot of positions. By general consensus Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Rickey Henderson, and Barry Bonds (done in the order they arrived in the big leagues) are the top four left fielders. There record as left “fielders”, as opposed to hitters is a mixed bag. Let me ask this, do you seriously care? Probably not. All are in the lineup to hit and it they can catch and throw then you have gravy. But it doesn’t work that way with a shortstop. You can’t just concentrate on his hitting. Fielding matters and fielding stats are most nebulous and imprecise of baseball stats. So you can’t just look at Jeter and say, “Well, sure, he’s better than Ozzie Smith because Smith didn’t hit nearly as well” (Using Smith purely as an example). That may be true, but Smith was twice the fielder that Jeter is (and that’s true of Smith versus almost anyone at short) and so that must be taken into serious consideration. If you decide that Williams and Bonds are a dead tie as hitters, you can use fielding as a way of picking one over the other, but with shortstops you have to consider this stat from the start. So looking at shortstops requires going into the fielding stats minefield.

Secondly, an inordinate number of truly fine shortstops have spent a lot (and I mean a LOT) of time at other positions. Honus Wagner was up for several years before settling at short, Robin Yount and Ernie Banks were both hurt and transfered to other positions (Yount to the outfield and Banks to first base) for significant parts of their career. In fact Banks ended up with more games at first than short, and Yount ended up with more total games in the outfield (but not at any single position in the outfield) than at short. And to give you a contemporary player, Alex Rodriguez has now spent more time at thrid than at short. All this makes it difficult to view a player as a shortstop rather than as an overall players (although doing so year by year instead of via career numbers makes it easier). Besides what do you call Yount, a shortstop of an outfielder? To solve that I went to the Hall of Fame site and looked how they defined a player. They say Yount and Banks are both shortstops (and Willie Stargell a left fielder as opposed to a first baseman–just to give you some idea of what they do). So I decided to add both to my list. I left ARod off (which I know isn’t great for consistency) because he’s still playing and it is possible he will shift back to short and solve the question or will end up spending twice as many games at third and solve the problem that way. As I don’t know what will happen there (“It is always easier to prophesy after the event.”–Winston Churchill) I left him off.

So here’s my thought on the matter. I’ll list my one and two players, then the next three in alphabetical order. I’m certain who I think is first and who is second. Three through five tend to shift around depending on the day, the stats I’m looking at, the latest book I’ve read (the phases of the moon), but I’m reasonably confident which three go there.

1. Honus Wagner. There are a lot of really good shortstops, but Wagner is still head  and shoulders above the rest. Personally, I think the drop from number one to number two is greater at shortstop than at any other position (no offense to number two, below).

2. Cal Ripken. He set the standard for a new kind of shortstop. He was mobile and he had power. He didn’t have the flash of Smith, but he was very adept at playing the hitter in such a way that he very seldom had to make a spectacular play.

3-5. Ernie Banks, Arky Vaughan, Robin Yount. Banks was the prototype for Ripken. It just didn’t take. All three of these are much alike. They are good enough shortstops (I’d rate Yount as the best) with a glove, but all hit very well; Banks for good power, Yount for occasional power. Both Yount and Banks win double MVPs and Vaughan could well have won one.

So where is Jeter? He’s in the next bunch. There are an entire pack of really good quality shortstops that can be rated 6-10. There’s Ozzie Smith, the underrated Alan Trammel, Barry Larkin, Joe Cronin, both Lu Ap’s (Luis Aparicio, Luke Appling), Reese, Rizzuto, Omar Vizquel, and old-timer George Davis who could take the next five slots (and I’m sure I left off at least one deserving candidate). Jeter is one of those that fit right in with this group. Right now I’d certainly put him in the mix, probably very high in that mix. I’m reasonably sure he’s going to move up my food chain. I expect him to end up a top five, possibly as high as third or fourth. But I’m going to wait until the career ends to drop him into a definite hole.

Having said that, he ought to get at least an extra point or two for standing along the first base line, grabbing a badly thrown ball, and flipping to Posada to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate during the playoffs. Arguably the greatest play I ever saw. For all the overhyping of Derek Jeter (and I’ve been critical of it) he is the closest we’ve had to a baseball icon since the steroid scandal broke. Baseball could surely use one and Jeter has done a good job of filling that role.