Posts Tagged ‘Reggie Jackson’

Cooking the Stats

September 13, 2015

Let me start by offering congratulations to David Ortiz for his 500th home run. It’s quite an achievement. In the history of Major League Baseball 26 other men have done it out of the thousands who’ve played. Last night ESPN kept running a note across the bottom of the screen reminding us he’d done it. They also kept telling us that he joined Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Reggie Jackson as the only 500 home run hitters with three World Series championships. And it’s that I want to deconstruct.

It’s true as far as it goes, but it’s another case of ESPN cherry-picking stats. Others do it too (heck, I’ve done it) but ESPN seems to take great delight in doing it. I got an idea, ESPN, let’s change just one number, just a little. How’s about guys with 500 home runs and four championships? Geez, that leaves Ruth, Mantle, and Jackson, doesn’t it? Better idea, how about guys with 500 home runs and five championships? Same list as four, right? Want to stretch it out to six? That leaves out Reggie. And seven? How about eight? At eight we lose everybody because both Ruth and Mantle have seven.

Or we could move the home run number a little. How about 525? That leaves out Ortiz. 550? Now we’re down to Ruth and Jackson. 600? Just the Babe. And if we add another qualifier, say batting .300, then again it’s just the Babe.

My point is that Ortiz has just accomplished a great feat and to me it gets somewhat diluted by making these kinds of artificial comparisons. Celebrate the feat, guys. Congrats, Papi.

Out of Tragedy

March 27, 2012

Joe Sewell in the 1920s

In August 1920 Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman was struck by a pitch and died in the midst of a pennant race. The Indians tried their backup, Harry Lunte. He lasted into September when he went down with a leg injury. In desperation, Cleveland turned to a minor leaguer named Joe Sewell. Sewell left the Major Leagues after the 1933 season and ended up in Cooperstown in 1977.

Joseph Sewell was born in 1898 in Alabama the son of a doctor. In 1916 he enrolled at the University of Alabama as a pre-med major, but played both baseball and football for the college. He was good, particularly at baseball, and became both a star athlete and an excellent student. He was well enough known and liked to become student body President. His baseball team did well winning the conference (not yet the Southeastern Conference) championship all four years (1916-1920) Sewell played (future Major League outfielder Riggs Stephenson was also on the team). With graduation in 1920, he signed with the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern League. He did well enough that when Chapman died and Lunte was injured, Cleveland bought his contract and brought him straight to the big leagues.

He wasn’t exactly an instant success. He hit .329 in 22 games, but was terrible in the field. In those same 22 games he made 15 errors in 129 chances. The team was good enough it didn’t matter a lot. They won the pennant and then took the World Series in 1920. Sewell hit .174 in the Series with four hits, two walks, two caught stealing, and one strikeout (remember that stat).

He got better. He remained with Cleveland through 1930, hitting .300 or better every year except two (1922 when he hit .299, and 1930 when he hit .289). He had no power, topping out at seven home runs and 12 triples. He had some speed, but was not a good base runner. His high in stolen bases was 17 in 1926, but the next year he led the American League with 16 caught stealing (to only three successes). To compensate, his OPS+ was over 100 every season except 1930. His fielding improved although he led the AL in errors in both 1922 and 1923. He compensated by leading the AL in assists twice, putouts four times, and fielding percentage three times.. By 1928 he was slowing down and moved to third base, where he played an acceptable, but not brilliant hot corner.

Of course what he could do was hit the ball. In 1921 he struck out 17 times in 683 plate appearances, in 1922 it was 20 k’s in 656 pa’s. It was his worst year. After that he struck out 12 times in 1923 and 13 in 1924. Following that his career high strikeout total in a season was 9 in 1928 (in 678 plate appearances). In 1925 his at bats per strikeouts was a record 154 (he would better that when he set the still standing record of 167.7 in 1932). What all this meant is that Sewell always made contact. Think of the number of times you could hit and run, or start a runner, knowing that Sewell would make contact. The grounded into double play stat is incomplete for the era, but I’ve found no source that claims Sewell hit into a lot of double plays, thus negating the hit and run. There were never going to be a lot of “strike ’em out, throw ’em out” calls with Sewell at the plate.

In 1931 he moved to New York, settling in as the Yankees third baseman. He tended to hit second in the lineup, just behind Earle Coombs and just ahead of Babe Ruth. His non-strikeout skill obviously came in handy in that position. He hit .302 in 1931, scored 102 runs, and struck out eight times (the pressure got to him). He also roomed with Lou Gehrig. Want an interesting bit of trivia? Gehrig’s strikeout numbers 1925 (his first full season) through 1930 (the last season without Sewell) are: 49, 73, 84, 69, 68, 63. Now with Sewell as a roommate: 56, 38, 42. Then it continues low for the rest of Gehrig’s career until 1938 when Gehrig is getting ill (it jumps to 75 in ’38). Now Gehrig never strikes out much and the trend is downward when Sewell arrives, but it drops even more once they room together. I’m not going to credit Sewell with cutting down on Gehrig’s strikeout total. As mentioned above, it was already trending down and wasn’t very high anyway, but I’ll bet they talked about hitting while rooming on the road. 

Sewell remained with the Yankees through 1933. His career was winding down, but he got into one last World Series in 1932. He hit .333, had an OBP of .500, slugged .400 and an OPS of .900 (God love easy to figure OPSs), scored five runs, had 3 RBIs, walked four times, and (get ready for it) didn’t strikeout once (unlike in his 1920 rookie Series).

Retired, Sewell went back to Alabama, ran a hardware store, coached a little, became an Indians scout, moved his scouting skills to the Mets, then in 1964 took over as head baseball coach at the University of Alabama. He stayed six years, won the Southeastern Conference championship in 1968, and had the stadium named for him (it’s a hyphenated name with the guy who preceded Sewell). In 1977 he was elected to the Hall of Fame and died in 1990.

For his career he hit .312, had an OBP of .391, slugged .413, and had an OPS of .804 (OPS+ of 108). He racked up 2945 total bases distributed between 2226 hits, 436 doubles, 68 triples, and 49 home runs. He scored 1141 times, had 1055 RBIs, and 74 stolen bases (but 72 caught stealing). He walked 842 times and struck out 114 in 8333 plate appearances. It’s general conceded that last set of numbers got him in Cooperstown, but the rest are pretty good too.

Sewell was also something of a fogey. I saw a couple of interviews with him in which he claimed that only Reggie Jackson and maybe Ron Guidry of the modern Yankees (this would be the pennant winning Yanks of 1976-81) could have played on his old team and he was certain Ruth called his shot in 1932.  He swore that players were better in his day (and in Ruth and Gehrig maybe some of them were) and that the new crop of players simply didn’t know how to play the game. This from a man who was thrown out 72 times trying to steal while being successful 74 times. I’ll give him this, he was right when he said the new guys struck out too much. On that, he was the greatest expert of all.

Thoughts on the Upcoming Veteran’s Committee Vote: IV

November 11, 2011

Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe as members of the Nashua Dodgers

Here’s the last installment of my look at the 2011 Veteran’s Committee ballot for the Hall of Fame. This time I want to look at the last two men on the list. They are general manager Buzzie Bavasi and owner Charlie Finley.

Bavasi was general manager for the Dodgers in their last few seasons in Brooklyn, beginning in 1951. He went with them to Los Angeles, overseeing the transition to the West Coast. He remained through 1968. From there he went to San Diego as their first GM, then finished up with the Angels in 1984. prior to taking over in Brooklyn, he worked with Brooklyn minor league teams, most importantly the Nashua, New Hampshire team that became the haven for Dodgers players brought over from the Negro Leagues. As GM he increased the number of black players on both the big league team and in the minor league system. He signed both Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, centerpieces of the Dodgers winning teams in the 1960s. On Bavasi’s watch, the Dodgers won their first four World Series championships (1955, ’59, ’63, and ’65). He set up the San Diego minor league system and later put together the first Angels teams to win division titles. He died in 2008.

Finley took over a moribund Athletics team, moved it out of Kansas City, signed a bunch of good players like Reggie Jackson, and won three consecutive World Series’ in the early 1970s. Out of perverseness, or spite, or stupidity, or miserliness, he began selling off his players for next to nothing, getting him in trouble with then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Kuhn ruled his actions were not “in the best interest of baseball.”  He sold the team in 1981. He brought in the A’s green and gold uniforms (some in awful combinations, other nice), he experimented with a designated runner, with colored balls. He had a mule for a team mascot. He was, in other words, an innovator, a rascal, a con man, and a genius all rolled into one. He died in 1996.

So do either of  them make my ballot? Nope. My problem with Finley is simply that I can’t see putting another owner into the Hall of Fame until Jacob Ruppert, the owner of the 1920s “Murderer’s Row” Yankees, and the 1930’s “Bronx Bombers” makes the Hall. It’s unbelievable to me he isn’t in, and until he is, I can’t endorse any other owner for the Hall (as if my endorsement makes a difference). Bavasi is a little harder to explain, especailly being a die hard Dodgers fan. To determine just how much impact a GM has on a team is difficult. So many other factors like scouting, ownership, and cash available all factor into the making of a team. A good GM has to work within that framework and no matter how good an evaluator of talent and chemistry he is, if he can’t get all three things working together, especially ownership and cash, he simply isn’t going to be successful. Until I work out in my mind exactly how it works, I will pass on GM’s for the Hall. I understand that my objections to both are personal quirks and  Idon’t expect anyone else to follow along.

Top 10

July 11, 2011

In a comment on the post below, Bill Miller asked me who were my choices for the 10 greatest Yankees. Well, never being one to shy away from making a fool of myself, I’m going to answer that. Here’s my list of the ten greatest Yankees, 1-5 in order, 6-9 listed alphabetically, and then number 10.

The Babe

1. Babe Ruth–do I have to really go into any detail as to why?

The Iron Horse

2. Lou Gehrig–Is arguably the second greatest player in MLB history (I think that’s too high, but understand people who want to make that argument), the greatest first baseman ever, and the classiest player on any team anytime.

The Mick

3. Mickey Mantle–It’s a tough call over DiMaggio, but I think I want Mantle’s combination of speed, power, and hitting. Sure, he hung on too long and lost out on a .300 batting average. I think if he’d ended up over .300 there might not be a question of who is the greatest Yankees center fielder.

Joltin’ Joe

4. Joe DiMaggio–Like Gehrig, a classy player. In many ways the opposite of  Mantle. Where Mantle was raw and powerful, DiMaggio was elegant and effortless. Still his numbers overall aren’t as good, so I go with the Mick.

Yogi

5. Yogi Berra–OK, he’s become a national comedian with his use of the English language, but I saw him play and God could he hit. He looked funny doing it, but he could do it so well. A lot of people forget he was a very good catcher too. The Yanks used to find all sorts of journeyman pitchers like Johnny Kucks, Don Larsen, and company and they ended up doing superbly, at least for short periods, with New York. I’ve  always thought Yogi had a lot to do with that.

6-9. In alphabetical order, Whitey Ford, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Red Ruffing. These guys I have a personal order for, but I have to admit it varies sometimes and I could be talked into turning the order around. I think they are all close and it’s hard to compare Jeter to the pitchers. It’s also hard to compare starting pitchers with relievers. As a rule I prefer starters over relievers because I’d rather have a guy who is good and can give my team 200-250 mostly quality innings over a guy who’s going to give me 70-100 mostly quality innings, even if most of those 70-100 are the ninth inning. After all, you gotta get through the first 24 outs before you can worry about the last three.

I know the above paragraph sounds pretty wishy-washy, but every time I think I have a list of greats down the way I want them, someone comes up with a new stat or I read something that puts a different nuance onto a player’s career. Then the list goes out the window and I start over. So I’m comfortable knowing 6-9 are the right guys. I’m much less comfortable with the exact order.

10. There are a lot of guys who could go here, Don Mattingly, Bill Dickey, Dave Winfield (and others). My personal choice is Reggie Jackson, but I recognize the difficulty in chosing a guy who was only there five years. But what a heck of a five years they were. Although winning is very much a team stat, I think it matters to a degree in judging a player. That degree has to do with how much impact that player has on the team. Using the four players listed above, Mattingly and Winfield simply never won as Yankees, and although Dickey won in the 1930’s and early 1940s I think that has a lot more to do with having Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio as teammates. On the other hand, the late 1970s Yankees were Jackson’s team. The line used about him was that the was “the straw that stirred the drink.” He was indeed that. So at this point I pick Jackson, knowing that someone reading this is quite capable of convincing me otherwise.

Anyway, there’s my list. First I know it’s pretty standard (except maybe for Jackson). No great surprises, but that’s probably to be expected. I know many will disagree, and that’s OK too. Have at it, team.

The Best Team Nobody Knows

July 8, 2011

Charlie O. The mascot-not the owner

Saw that Dick Williams just died. He first came to my attention as a backup for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s. Frankly, I didn’t pay much attention to him. By 1967 he was managing the Boston Red Sox to the “Impossible Dream” pennant and a date with Bob Gibson in the World Series. He also managed Oakland in the 1970s and took San Diego to the World Series in 1984. It was a unique Series in that no manager had ever won a World Series in both leagues. Both Williams and Tigers’ manager Sparky Anderson had won two Series’ in the opposite league, so whichever team won, the manager would be the first to win in both leagues. Anderson got the honor (only Tony LaRussa has done it since). In Williams’ honor, I want to dwell on the Oakland teams he managed in the 1970s. They are, for my money, the best team that nobody knows.

Between 1971 and 1975, the Oakland  Athletics won the American League West Division every year. For the middle three years they ended up with the pennant and a trip to the World Series. In 1972, ’73, and ’74 they were world champions. Do you realize how unusual that is? John McGraw’s Giants never did that (they got two in a row), Connie Mack’s Athletics never did that (they got three of four), Miller Huggins’ Murderer’s Row Yankees didn’t (they got two),  the Cardinals never did it (they won three of five in the 1940s). Neither did “The Big Red Machine.” Can you name all the teams that did? They are Joe McCarthy’s 1936-39 Yankees, Casey Stengel’s 1949-53 Yankees, Joe Torre’s 1998-2000 Yankees, and this Oakland team.  And I’ll bet if you weren’t reading this you might have stumbled over the A’s, because over the years they have gotten lost in the shuffle.

So who were they? Glad you asked. The owner was Charlie  O. Finley. When he owned the A’s, I was fairly sure Finley was half crazy. He did unusual things like try colored baseballs (that didn’t work) and came up with gold and green uniforms (which did work, except that it spawned some really ugly stuff down the road). He had a mule as a mascot (and the Phillie Phanatic it wasn’t). He invented a designated runner (which sorta worked). He was loud, he was a publicity hound, and he knew how to put together a team that won. Why he’s not in the Hall of Fame with his spiritual mentor Bill Veeck, I don’t know.

Williams managed the team through 1973, then left in a dispute with Finley. He was replaced by Alvin Dark who won the final of the three Series championships and one more division title. They were very different. Williams was loud (no wonder he didn’t get along with Finley), Dark more laid back. Williams fought his players, Dark didn’t. Both knew how to get the best out of what they had. They had a knack of using an over-the-hill player to get one more decent season out of him (see Billy Williams, Deron Johnson, and Jesus Alou after the advent of the designated hitter) and get good play out of career minor leaguers like Gonzalo Marquez.

The catcher changed over the years. Dave Duncan was there in 1971. In 1972 Gene Tenace took over and became the World Series MVP.  In 1973 and 1974 Ray Fosse (he of Pete Rose All-Star fame) was the catcher. He was still there in 1975, but Tenace was back to do the primary catching that season. Duncan was a good catcher who handled pitchers well. It got him a pitching coach job with LaRussa and he’s gone on to glory. Fosse was also a good catcher, but the encounter with Rose cost him a lot of his hitting prowess (I’ve never been quite sure why that’s true). More on Tenace in the next paragraph. All in all it was a decent, if unspectacular, catching staff.

The infield was amazingly consistent for the entire period. Mike Epstein started off at first, lasting through 1972. He hit a lot of home runs, had a lousy average, and was only a so-so first baseman. Tenace replaced him in 1974. He was sort of Epstein redux. He hit for a lot of power, not much of an average, and wasn’t going to make anyone forget he was an ex-catcher. He was, however, more of a team leader. Dick Green was the regular second baseman and he was great. Green was one of the premier second basemen of the era, and quite frankly one of the better second basemen ever. That has nothing to do with how well he hit, because he didn’t . He hit eighth for a reason. For a while Williams experimented with starting Green, then pinch-hitting for him when he came to bat, inserting Ted Kubiak at second, then pinch-hitting for him when his turn came to bat. Didn’t last long. It took up a lot of bench players and Green’s glove was sorely missed late in the game. Bert Campaneris played short and led off a lot. He was an OK shortstop, but his specialty was his bat. He hit around .300 a lot of the time, had no power, but had great speed. He was a fine table-setter for the power lower in the lineup.  He led the AL in stolen bases several times, but during the pennant run only led in 1972 (with 52). Sal Bando played third, was a team captain, and one of the most overlooked third basemen ever. He was an unquestioned team leader, played third well, and might have become the face of the team if not for the fellow in right field.

First and foremost, this was Reggie Jackson’s team. He played right field, hit the ball a mile, was outrageous (and could back it up), had his own candy bar, and led the team in power and quotes. Between 1972 and 1982 the American League team won the World Series five times. Jackson was on every team. He went to the playoffs every year except 1976 and 1979. I don’t know that he’s the best player of the 1970s (there’s always Mike Schmidt and George Brett to consider) but he was the most successful. Joe Rudi played opposite him in left. Rudi was everything Jackson wasn’t. He was quiet, never “hot dogged”. He was almost as good a player, however. He was excellent in the field, hit well, had good, but not great, power, and never stood out like “Mr October.” Center Field had Billy North out there in both 1973 and 1974. He was fast, could catch well enough, and made a good two hitter. He led off  some and ended up winning a stolen base title in 1974 (and later in 1976). Angel Mangual was the regular center fielder in 1972. By ’73 he was backing up North.

The staff consisted of Hall of Famer Jim Hunter, rookie sensation Vida Blue, lefty Ken Holtzman, and “Blue Moon” Odom. In many ways this was the strength of the team. All were good pitchers (Odom was far and away the weakest of the lot) whose records reflected their abilities and weren’t just reflections of the team hitters. Hunter led the AL in wins once (74), in winning percentage twice, and ERA once. Blue led in both ERA and shutouts once. With Nolan Ryan in the league, none of them ever led the league in strikeouts.

Then there was Rollie Fingers. He’s probably as famous today for his moustache as for his pitching. He was the bullpen man (they didn’t call them “closers” yet). He never led the AL in  saves in the era, but was instrumental in Oakland’s victories. He was an old-fashioned reliever, meaning he entered the game in whatever late inning was critical and shut the door, then finished up the game. In the World Series winning years he pitched in 65, 62, and 76 games logging 111, 127, and 119 innings (or about 2 innings per appearance). They don’t do it that way any more.

There they are, three-time World Series winners. Most of them are long gone into obscurity. They never had the panache of the Yankees and playing in the West coast time zone certainly didn’t help, but they were a great team that deserves to be remembered. Take the occasion of the death of their first manager to do just that, OK?

Old Longings

May 13, 2010

A day or so ago SportsPhd put up a little post on four things in baseball he wished he had seen, but wasn’t around for. It was a great list and I don’t disagree with any of it except for Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. I got home from school in time to see the last couple of innings. I’m going to shamelessly borrow his idea and give you four baseball moments I wish I had seen.

I’m going back to a period either before I was born or when I was so small I didn’t know what was going on. That makes me leave out things I heard on the radio, like Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, but didn’t actually “see.” It also leaves out those things that happened while I was watching something else and have now seen a dozen times on TV. So with those caveats, here we go.

4. I’d have loved to have been in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1871 to see the first ever major league game. Fort Wayne beat Cleveland 2-0 in a game that sounds as if it was well-played. There’s something about being there at a birth that is so special. If you have a child, you know the feeling.

3. I’d like to have been around in 1908 for the Merkle Game. It’s arguably the most famous regular season game ever played. It was apparently a heck of a game prior to the chaos of the ninth inning and might have been worth seeing anyway. Knowing what was going to happen (remember this is time machine stuff so I know who’s going to win already) I could now stay in the stands and watch the ball to see what really happened between Solly Hofman, Joe McGinnity, and Johnny Evers. And this is a two-for-one special. I also get to see the replay a few weeks later.

2. As I told SportsPhd I would like to be in Wrigley Field in October 1932 for game 3 of the World Series. That’s the game that featured Babe Ruth’s “called shot.” I don’t know what he did, but apparently he did something just before crushing the ball. I’d love to know exactly what he did. You can argue about the greatest player ever in the game, but Ruth is easily the greatest showman ever to put on a uniform (with apologies to Reggie Jackson). 

1. Here I agree with SportPhd. I want to be in Ebbets Field in April 1947 to see Jackie Robinson take up his position at first base. It was one of baseball’s finest hours and I’d love to be there to see and participate.

So that’s four things I missed and wish I hadn’t. Your own list?