Posts Tagged ‘Tom Seaver’

A New Test for Seaver

March 9, 2019

Tom Seaver with the Mets

It was with sadness that I read Tom Seaver has dementia. He’s 74 now and owns a vineyard in California. But to me he will always be the great pitcher I saw in the 1970s.

I’m not certain who gets credit as the greatest pitcher I ever saw, but I know Seaver makes the top 10 easily, and probably is in the upper half. He was a joy to watch with the great push-off his legs, the telltale dirt mark on his trousers where his leg scrapped the ground as he delivered a pitch. There seemed to be no-nonsense with him when he went to the mound, a trait that appears common among most great pitchers. He pitched quickly and economically in both motion and number of pitches. To me, Steve Carlton personified determination, Sandy Koufax elegance, and Bob Gibson fierceness. But Seaver had a touch of all of those.

It’s been 50 years since the Miracle Mets. Seaver was the face of that team. It’s unusual for a pitcher to be the face of a team. They don’t go out everyday like a position player, but it does occur (Carlton, Koufax, and Gibson all accomplished it). Seaver won the Cy Young that year (1969), the first of three (He’d already picked up a Rookie of the Year award). His family has already announced he will not attend any of the celebrations in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary. That’s a great shame.

I never rooted for his teams. I liked Baltimore in 1969, the A’s in 1973, and never cared much for the Reds, or either color of sox (he played for both the White Sox and Red Sox), but you almost couldn’t help rooting for him. I presume I join a legion of fans in wishing him well and join others in saying, “Good luck, Tom Terrific.” We’re pulling for you.

Gibby

August 16, 2016
Bob Gibson

Bob Gibson

While researching something else, it dawned on me that I’d never actually sat down and wrote about one of my all time favorites, Bob Gibson. I did a little something a few years back (25 October 2010 titled “Bob Gibson Gets Me a Car”) on how a bet on the 1967 World Series netted me enough to buy a used car (and Gibson was instrumental in that win) but I’d never actually centered something on him. Time to change that.

Gibson came out of Omaha before Peyton Manning made the town a sports word. He did a little work with the Harlem Globetrotters, then joined the St. Louis Cardinals. He made his debut in 1959 against the Dodgers. He worked the last two innings in relief, gave up a couple of runs, including a home run to Jim Baxes, the first batter he faced in the National League. His opponent was Don Drysdale.

Gibson got better. After two seasons with a losing record, he finished over .500 for the first time in 1961 (13-12). Unfortunately, he also led the NL in walks. He made his first All Star Game in 1962 and led the NL in shutouts. In 1964 he won 19 games, was either the ace or the “two” pitcher, depending on your view of Ray Sadecki, and helped the Cards to their first World Series since 1946. He lost his first game, then won two more, including game seven, as St. Louis won the Series and he was named MVP. He got into two more World Series. The one in 1967 saw him win three games, set the single game strikeout record for a Series, and pick up his second World Series MVP award (and a car for me).

In 1968 he was awesome. He was 22-9 (.710 percentage) and led the NL in ERA (1.12), shutouts (13), strikeouts (268), ERA+ (258), WHIP (0.853), WAR (11.2), and about anything else you can do on a mound including raking it. It got him an MVP Award and his first Cy Young Award. He won two games in the World Series, but lost game seven as Detroit stopped the Cards.

He led the NL in wins one more time and picked up a second Cy Young Award. He started slipping in 1973 and was done by 1975. For his career he was 251-174 (.591), had 56 shutouts, 3117 strikeouts, a 2.91 ERA (ERA+ of 127) a 1.188 WHIP, 81.9 WAR, an MVP Award, and two Cy Young Awards. In World Series play he was 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA 0.889 WHIP, 92 strikeouts, two rings, and two Series, MVP Awards. The Hall of Fame call came in 1981, his first year.

Gibson got to St. Louis at an important time in the team history. Integration had just occurred and there were still problems about it on the team. The stature of Stan Musial, who had no problem with it and went out of his way to make black players welcome on the team, helped some, but the tensions were still there. And to be a black pitcher was, in some circles, almost an affront to decency. Gibson overcame that and became probably the best pitcher in Cardinals history. He did it through determination, grit, and sheer ability. Over the years he’s become famous (or infamous depending on your view) as a fierce, almost violent pitcher who took hits as a personal challenge. If you watched him on the mound the determination showed through even a TV set. Heck, he scared me through the lens. The way he lunged forward when he threw made him even more scary. Of course that kind of determination and desire for domination led to one of his most famous moments. He was hit in the leg, breaking the bone. Unwilling to admit it, he took the ball, set up, and unleashed one last pitch as he fell to the ground and had to be taken off the field. That moment epitomized Bob Gibson unlike almost anything else he did.

He has one of the better World Series records. OK, he has the most strikeouts in a game and in a single Series, but there’s another most people overlook. In his career he lost his first Series game and lost his last. In between he won seven games in a row. No one else, not Whitey Ford, not Red Ruffing, not Allie Reynolds (the other men with seven or more World Series wins) won seven World Series games in a row.

Over the years he’s kind of gotten lost. He was truly the most dominant pitcher in baseball for a very short time. Before him there was Sandy Koufax. Then came Tom Seaver. In between he had to contend with Juan Marichal and Drysdale. It seems to have cost him something of his luster.

He did have the advantage of spending much of his career with Tim McCarver as his catcher. Whatever you think of him as a color guy, McCarver is one of the great storytellers in baseball. He ended up spinning one Gibson tale after another and it helped Gibson remain in the public eye a little more. My favorite story goes like this:

The manager ordered an intentional walk. McCarver held up four fingers, stepped over, held up his glove, and watched the first pitch drill the batter solidly in the ribs. He went out to the mound asking what happened? Gibson told him that he (Gibson) had just saved three pitches. See why I got a car betting on him?

 

The 49 Greatest Mets

January 29, 2014

ESPN has come up with another “greatest” list. This time it’s the Mets and it only goes 49 deep (not the usual 50). I suppose that’s because the Mets are only just over 50 years old. But when you consider the bottom of the list, you’d think they could put on someone like Ron Swoboda just to get it to 50.  You can find the list by going to ESPN and finding their New York page. Here’s some quick thoughts on it:

1. The top 10 are (in order) Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Mike Piazza, David Wright, Jerry Koosman, Keith Hernandez, Jose Reyes, Cary Carter, and Carlos Beltran.

2. To make a team (four pitchers, one of which is left-handed) you get: Hernandez at 1st, Edgardo Alfonso at 2nd (he’s 11th on the list and the first player to spend significant time at second base–although he played at third as well), Reyes at short, and Wright at third. The outfield is Strawberry, Beltran, and Mookie Wilson (who is 15th on the list). Your starters are Seaver, Gooden, Koosman, and Al Leiter (who is 12th on the list). John Franco is the reliever (coming in at 14th), and the highest listed hitter whose position is already filled is Gary Carter, which makes him your DH.

3. I saw no major players left off, but I was surprised that Ron Darling (17 was higher than David Cone (18), but maybe that works for Cone’s Mets career.

4. Tug McGraw (19) finished higher than either Jesse Orosco (22) or Roger McDowell (41), which I liked.

5. I thought Tommy Agee was low at 25 and Ed Kranepool high at 26, although Kranepool had a lot of Mets records for a while. All were longevity numbers.

6. Jerry Grote, John Stearns, and Todd Hundley all made the list. I’d forgotten that Mets catching was reasonably deep.

7. And everybody’s favorite 1962 Mets player, Marv Throneberry was 49th. Ain’t that Amazin”?

Go take a look for yourself. If you disagree, take it up with ESPN.

Picking a Winner

November 22, 2010

Juan Marichal

I’m frankly stunned that Felix Hernandez won the AL Cy Young Award. I guess I’ll have to chalk it up to not believing that the Baseball Writer’s Association had embraced the new statistics. It seems that the last couple of Cy Young votes in both leagues (Roy Halladay excluded) are evidence that the sabrmetric stats are beginning to overtake the more traditional stats.That’s neither a totally good thing nor a totally bad thing. Just because the stats are new (or old) doesn’t make them better. It also doesn’t mean that previous results were wrong. Take Juan Marichal as an example.

I’ve heard people say that Marichal is the best pitcher to never win a Cy Young Award. Actually Walter Johnson (or Cy Young) is. What they mean is that since the award was established, Marichal is the most overlooked. Well, maybe. There have been a number of truly fine pitchers that haven’t won the award, but I won’t argue against Marichal. But by using the traditional stats, is he really particularly overlooked? The heart of Marichal’s career is 1963-1969 with a nod toward 1971. I’ve heard it said that for the entire period Marichal had better numbers than any of the pitchers who won. So what? The Cy Young Award is for yearly, not career, excellence. You want career excellence? Look to the Hall of Fame. If you look at his yearly stats compared to the Cy Young Award winners the conclusion is at best mixed, and at worst you have to conclude Marichal wasn’t rooked. Here’s the stats for the Cy Young Award winners in 1963 through 1971 (with 1967 and 1970 left off because Marichal had down years those two seasons). The stats used are wins/winning percentage/ ERA/ strikeouts/shutouts. Remember from 1963 through 1966 there is only one award, so for Marichal to win he must be the consensus best pitcher in all of Major League Baseball to win. From 1967 through 1971 there are two awards, one for each league, so Marichal has to be only the consensus National League pitcher. Also remember that in 1964 the AL pitcher won, so the numbers don’t exactly compare. All other years the winner involved is an NL pitcher. Marichal’s corresponding stats follow each year’s winner.

1963: 25/833/188/306/11 (Koufax), Marichal: 25/758/241/248/5

1964: 20/690/165/207/11 (Chance), Marichal: 21/724/248/206/4

1965: 26/765/204/382/8 (Koufax), Marichal: 22/629/213/240/10

1966: 27/750/173/317/5 (Koufax), Marichal: 25/806/223/222/4

1968: 22/710/112/268/13 (Gibson), Marichal: 26/743/243/218/5

1969: 25/781/22/208/5 (Seaver), Marichal: 21/656/210/205/8

1971: 24/649/277/253/5 (Jenkins), Marichal: 18/621/294/159/4

So Marichal doesn’t win any of those. Who do you like? Maybe Marichal, maybe the other guy, but in each case you can argue that Marichal did or didn’t get jobbed. The closest, to me, is 1964.

Now remember that between 1963 and 1971 the statistics revolution hadn’t occurred. We didn’t have Whip or ERA+ or War or most of the other stats (even Saves was just being floated) so you cannot use those to argue the voters got it wrong, because those stats didn’t exist. Now that they do, we can see a drift away from the traditional stats that is probably good for the game,  but let’s not retroactively push them back into other eras and argue that they should have been used to come up with different results.

For those interested, I ran the Whip and ERA+ stats for Marichal and the Cy Young Award winner for the years above and list them below Whip/ERA+ with the winner first.

1963: 0.875/159 (Koufax), Marichal: 0.996/133

1964: 1.006/198 (Chance), Marichal: 1.089/144

1965: 0.855/160 (Koufax), Marichal: 0.914/169

1966: 0.985/190 (Koufax), Marichal: 0.859/167

1968: 0.853/258 (Gibson), Marichal: 1.047/123

1969: 1.039/165 (Seaver), Marichal: 0.994/168

1971: 1.049/142 (Jenkins), Marichal: 1.075, 117 

Do those numbers make you think the award went the wrong place? If they do, remember they weren’t around in Juan Marichal’s great years.

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?