Posts Tagged ‘Rickey Henderson’

The Writing on the Plaque

March 14, 2019

Lou Brock postcard from the Hall of Fame

I’ve been to Cooperstown twice. It’s a great place, but like most enterprises of its type it has a store. Of course there’s going to be crass commercialization and the stuff will be overpriced. One of the cheaper items is the postcard collection. These are 4×6 standard sized postcards with a picture of the player’s plaque in the Hall of Fame hall. They’re 50 cents each so you can get 20 for $10 (plus tax). I picked up some and was looking them over the other day. That led to this post.

The one above is the card for Lou Brock. It’s kind of hard to read at this size, but it basically says he has the record for most stolen bases in a season and for a career. One of the things I noticed was that you can almost always tell when a player was inducted into the Hall of Fame by reading the plaque. Older plaques tend to be shorter and a bit more vague (that’s not universally true). There’s a lot more emphasis on batting average in the older ones and more on wins and losses by pitchers (again not true every time).

The Brock card struck me because it’s no longer true. Brock holds neither the seasonal nor career stolen base record. They both belong to Rickey Henderson. Of course Henderson’s plaque notes that he now holds both records. And I decided that it was fine to show both men as record holders because it does two things that, to me, are important.

Rickey Henderson postcard from the Hall of Fame

First, it shows the upward progression of the stolen base record and thus celebrates both players and their achievement. And before you ask, Billy Hamilton’s plaque also gives him credit for both records. So by simply reading these plaques you can follow the stolen base record, both seasonal and career, from the 1890s into the 21st Century.

“Slidin'” Billy Hamilton postcard from the Hall of Fame

Second, I think a lot of people who simply look over the Hall of Fame list wonder “What the heck is he doing here?” I know I do and will continue to do so because there are several questionable inductees. But sometimes the plaque tells you exactly why the guy is in the Hall of Fame because it makes a point of giving you information that was, when the player was chosen, critical to his election. So when someone asks why Billy Hamilton is in the Hall of Fame (and I suppose there are a lot of visitors who know nothing about 19th Century base ball–correct spelling in the 19th Century) you can read that the Hall decided that the man who had more stolen bases than anyone else ought to be in the Hall of Fame. When you get to Lou Brock’s plaque you find the same is still true and then again when you stand in front of Rickey Henderson’s.

So the plaques are more than just a celebration of a player and a game. They are also an historical record of the course of the seasons and of careers.

For those interested the postcards are available at the Hall of Fame website’s shop (and I don’t get a cut).

Legacy

March 16, 2011

Yankee Stadium 1930s configuration

There are some positions that are just simply the glamour spots for a team. For the Giants, as evidenced by their latest championship and their long history of great pitchers, it’s the mound. For the Red Sox it’s left field.  Both teams have produced an inordinate number of high quality players at the position. For the Yankees, that position is, with apologies to catchers and second base, center field.

The Yankees were formed in Baltimore in 1901 and shifted to New York in 1903. The “Yankees” team moniker came during the teens. They were a team that was sporadically competitive prior to 1920 and the arrival of Babe Ruth. Afterwards they were the dominant franchise. Whether the team was winning or losing, they have usually had a fine center fielder since. the key word there is “usually.”

Way back in 1921 when it all began, the center fielder was the immortal Elmer Miller (that’s OK, I never heard of him either). Whitey Witt came in ’22. Not a bad player but certainly not the reason they were winning (That Ruth kid had something to do with it). He stayed through 1925, hit .287 with no power and not much speed. He gave way to Earle Combs, who was a revelation in center. Combs could hit (.325), had doubles power (309), and speed. He didn’t steal a lot of bases (with Ruth and Gehrig hitting behind you, would you?), but the papers of the time indicate he was adept at going from first to third on a good single and coming home from second on a clean base hit to the outfield. And of course he was on base quite a bit (OBP of .397, which ain’t bad, but not all that great either. He never finished higher than 5th in OBP.) for Ruth and Gehrig to drive home. He stayed through 1935 and eventually made the Hall of Fame. His successor was Joe DiMaggio who  stayed in center through 1951 and was replaced by Mickey Mantle in 1952. Mantle remained a fixture in New York through 1968.

Now I don’t mean to imply that Combs, DiMaggio, and Mantle played every game in center between 1925 and 1968. Obviously they missed games, and DiMaggio lost three years to World War II. Additionally, Mantle moved to first base in the last two years. But as a rule for the entire period a Hall of Famer stood in center field for New York. That’s not a unique event. Take a look at Boston left fielders from Ted Williams through Jim Rice, but the Yankees center fielders played on winners year after year.

Bobby Murcer replaced Mantle (after running Joe Pepitone and Bill Robinson out there for a couple of years). He’s generally overlooked as a Yankees center fielder, but he was pretty good. He wasn’t DiMaggio or Mantle, but he may have been Combs. There have been a lot of really terrific underrated players in baseball history. Murcer is in the list and, in my opinion, toward the top. He lasted through 1974 then came back in 1979 (although not as the regular center fielder). He was also the last of the power hitters who spent significant time out in center.

The rest of the 1970s and 1980s saw New York send a lot of men to center. They won two World Series titles with Mickey Rivers out there. But as a rule guys like Jerry Mumphrey and Ruppert Jones weren’t anything to write home about. They did try Rickey Henderson in center in the mid to late 1980s. As a center fielder Rickey Henderson made left fielder Rickey Henderson look like Roberto Clemente (Henderson led the league in errors in 1985.). But at least he could track down the ball. All the searching for a quality center fielder changed when Bernie Williams showed up. He gave New York a fine center fielder. He could hit, run, play the field. He won a  batting title and hit clean up on four World Series winners. Is he a Hall of Famer? We’ll find out in a couple of years.

I know that’s not a  comprehensive list of Yankees center fielders, not even since 1921, but what I wanted to show was a long and sustained period of quality play at one position. And the Yankees center fielders certainly, despite some hiccups, did that.

Slidin’ Billy

August 25, 2010

Slidin' Billy Hamilton with Boston

One reason I always liked Lou Brock was because he was smarter than the writers and pundits knew. When he was getting ready to establish the all-time stolen base record, most people were talking about how he’d run ahead of Ty Cobb. It seems Brock knew Cobb wasn’t the record holder. Because Brock kept playing until he picked up 938 stolen bases, one more than Slidin’ Billy Hamilton.

Hamilton was born in Newark, N ew Jersey in 1866 (does that make him a Civil War Baby Boomer?). He was a left-handed hitting outfielder who got to the Big Leagues in 1888 with the Kansas City Cowboys of the American Association (a Major League in 1888). They finished last with Hamilton playing 35 games, hitting .264, and stealing 19 bases. In 1889, The Cowboys got to seventh (in an eight team league) with Hamilton taking over as the regular right fielder. He hit .301, stole 111 bases, and scored 144 runs in 137 games.  In the shake up that led to the formation of the Player’s League in 1890, Hamilton went to Philadelphia in the National League, where he stayed through 1895.

This is as good a point as any to take on this stolen base record stuff. After all 111 stolen bases is a lot. Back when Hamilton was playing, stolen bases were figured differently than they are now. A single was assumed to advance a runner one base, so a man going from first to third on a single was credited with a stolen base. A double was assumed to advance a runner two bases, so a man scoring from first on a double was credited with a stolen base (Apparently it wasn’t home, because he didn’t get credit for stealing home. You figure it out.). Also I can find no evidence that “defensive indifference” was called in the period. So a lot of Hamilton’s stolen bases aren’t what you and I would consider stolen bases, but were noted as such in his own era. The rule was changed to the modern method of determining a stolen base after 1897, so almost all of Hamilton’s stolen bases are under the old definition and no one seems to be able to accurately determine how many of his stolen bases would fit the modern definition.  To give you some idea how much this rule change effected stats, Ed Delahanty (for one example) had 58 steals to lead the NL in 1898. In 1897 that would have been eighth.

Hamilton had great years at Philadelphia. He led the league in runs three times, in hits once, in walks three times, in on base percentage yet again three times, won a batting title in 1891, and of course he led in stolen bases four times. In 1894 he was part of an all .400 hitting outfield when he hit .403. In that season, he set the record for runs scored with 192 (or 198 depending on the source) and also stole seven bases in a games, a record by any definition. In 1896 he went to Boston (now the Atlanta Braves) and helped lead them to NL pennants in 1897 and 1898. He remained in Boston until his retirement in 1901. With Boston he led the league in runs once, walks twice, and on base percentage twice.

For his career Hamilton hit .344, had an OBP of .455, had 2154 hits, scored 1697 runs, and played in 1594 games. He died in 1940 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1961. I have no idea why it took so long except that he played a long time ago.

Hamilton has a lot of interesting numbers. My favorite pair is 1594 games played and 1697 runs scored, or 1.06 runs scored per game played. That’s one of those 19th Century numbers that astound me. Take a look at more modern players. To stick with great base stealers, Lou Brock played 2616 games and scored 1610 runs (0.62 runs per game) and Rickey Henderson played 3081 games and scored 2295 runs (0.74 runs per game). Even the greatest base stealers ever can’t match Hamilton’s ability to score runs. It’s good that Lou Brock knew at least a little baseball history. It allowed him to pass Hamilton in stolen bases (whatever the definition) because he wasn’t going to catch him in runs per game.

Coincidence

May 10, 2010

Yesterday is one of those serendipitous days that happens in baseball occasionally. Two people forever intertwined in an event make history on the same day a continent apart. That’s actually happened a few times before and let’s take a moment and note them.

1. Yesterday a pitcher named Dallas Braden pitched a perfect game. Until then, he was primarily famous for his dust-up with Alex Rodriguez over A-Rod crossing the mound on the way back to first, a serious breach of Braden’s view of baseball ethics. Also yesterday Rodriguez slugged his third home run of the season. It managed to tie Frank Robinson on the all-time homer lit.

2. Rickey Henderson set the all-time stolen base mark and bragged he was the best ever. Unfortunately for him Nolan Ryan threw his seventh and final no-hitter the same day (1 May 1991). The two are joined because Ryan’s 5000th strikeout victim was (drum roll, please) Rickey Henderson.

3. On 4 August 1985 Tom Seaver got his 300th career win in New York (pitching for the White Sox). Rod Carew picked up his 3000 career hit the same day in Anaheim. How are they connected? Seaver was the 1967 National League Rookie of the Year, while Carew won the same award in the American League the same season. By way of trivia, in 1956 both Luis Aparicio and Frank Robinson won the Rookie of the Year award. That marks, along with 1967 and 1977 (Eddie Murray and Andre Dawson), the first of only three times both Rookies of the Year went on to the Hall of Fame.

Don’t you just love coincidences?